Path to Precision

Talking about control technologies: an introduction to precision steering

09 Dec 2021

Driving a tractor, harvester or sprayer up and down a field might appear to be a simple job, but when you factor in the size of the fields, varying terrain and other factors such as operator skill level and fatigue, getting picture-perfect straight rows isn’t so easy.

And it’s not just vanity that motivates professional farmers to aim for straight rows, repeated year on year. Accuracy saves time and money (by reducing wasted inputs such as seed, fertilizer, herbicide or fuel), and can improve the quality of your crop (by reducing soil compaction as well as ‘skipped’ areas that miss out on the right seed, herbicide or fertilizer application). 

Farmers around the world have been increasingly implementing precision farming techniques since Case IH first introduced its Advanced Farming Systems (AFS®) in 1995, realising it gave them a level of control in an otherwise unpredictable & uncertain livelihood.

One of the simplest ways to improve productivity and reduce input costs is to implement some kind of precision steering technology. In other words, embracing technology to take care of steering your machinery while it’s working in the field.

First, let’s look at 3 main benefits of this technology:

1. Reduce “skips”

“Skipped” areas in a field mean the parts of the field where soil preparation, planting, crop protection or fertiliser application, or even harvesting have been missed. This can happen when a tractor or harvester driver steers even slightly crookedly – even a marginally different angle compared with the adjacent row can have a huge impact over a large field. It can be even worse at row ends, as it’s hard for even the most skilled operator to get the perfect turning circle, especially with wide machinery or implements. Add in rolling hills or bumpy terrain, and it’s almost impossible for operators to steer accurately. For each area that is missed, it’s an area where the crop may not grow to its full potential. 

2. Reduce “overlaps”

The opposite of a skip is an “overlap”. This is an area of the field that has been passed over more than once, requiring more seed, crop protection or fertiliser, and even more fuel than should be required if the field area was passed over perfectly once. In addition to wastage, having too many seeds, or too much chemical applied could also have a negative impact on plant growth, and the inaccuracy also increases the amount of compacted soil, which can also limit yield potential.

3. Increase working speed

When the machine you are driving can be trusted to cover the field accurately in a single pass, the operator can concentrate on other functions (such as monitoring seeding depth), and can often operate at a faster speed, especially at row ends where efficient turning can save a lot of time on a large farm. This significantly reduces operator fatigue and gives you more hours in the day—and that equates to money when you factor in labour costs, or the risk of lost time or harvest quality if you’re trying to beat the incoming storm. 

Reducing skips and overlaps, and the time required to work in your fields effectively enables you to get more out of the land—and the time—you’ve got.

Now let’s compare some different types of precision steering technology:

Lightbar guidance system

This is a basic, entry level system that can be retrofitted to nearly any self-propelled machine. The unit can be attached to the dashboard, bonnet or front windscreen in the centre of the cab. It uses GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) to guide you to steer on the correct path using a series of lights—simply follow the green lights to stay on track. While this is an inexpensive way to achieve a basic level of accuracy, particularly on older machinery, it still requires manual steering by the operator

After-market auto-steering system

The next level up, which can still be retrofitted to most machinery, old and new, is an auto-steering system, such as EZ-Pilot [link], available from your Case IH dealer. This kind of steering system will turn the steering wheel for you via an installed drive motor, which is commanded indirectly by an output from the accompanying guidance controller. As well as being relatively inexpensive, these systems are easy to install, can be transferred between multiple vehicles and are highly accurate.

Fully integrated autoguidance

Using a guidance system that’s built-in to your machine will provide the optimal level of accuracy and maintain accurate row positioning across different field conditions. On Case IH tractors and harvesting equipment, this is known as AFS AccuGuide™ [link]. AFS AccuGuide ensures pass-to-pass accuracy (+/- 2cm) and reliability, regardless of the weather or operation. You can pick from one of the guidance patterns (field, circle, curved, heading, spiral and straight) to reduce overlaps and skips and to begin saving money on input costs and labour. 

Steiger® Quadtrac®, Magnum™, Puma® and Maxxum® tractors; Axial-Flow® combines and Patriot® sprayers can be equipped with factory-installed AccuGuide autoguidance, delivering convenience and quality control. AccuGuide can also be retrofitted to supported models by your Case IH Dealer. AccuGuide requires an AFS Pro 700 Monitor and AFS 372 Receiver. 

Fully integrated end-of-row turning

Automated hands-free end-of-row autoguidance means that the system does the turning for you. Depending on the system, the required number of headland turn actions (such as lifting or lowering your implement) can also be managed in perfect sync. AFS AccuTurn™ [link] from Case IH uses industry-leading path-planning logic to maximize your productivity and efficiency by providing hands-free steering for automatic, repeatable end-of-row turns. 

AccuTurn functionality can be used on any new and existing Case IH Steiger®, Magnum™, Optum®, Puma® or Maxxum® tractors equipped with AccuGuide™ autoguidance.

Case IH Advanced Farming Systems (AFS) accuracy solutions are designed to help you farm better and smarter. From basic accuracy options to pinpoint, sub-inch RTK+ guidance, Case IH offers solutions no matter what crops you grow or where you grow them, repeatable 95% of the time. Talk to your local Case IH dealer about the best kind of precision steering solution to suit your operation.

By adopting precision steering technology, you can reduce your skips and overlaps; save on fuel and labour costs; better manage your seed, fertiliser and chemical inputs; simplify operations and even add hours to the day during critical operating windows. 

While there are many precision farming tools available, precision steering is a relatively simple way to make significant productivity improvements and can provide a fast return on investment for farms of any size no matter where you are in the season.