Steering a new row to hoe

Jerett Bond, of U.S. Tractor & Harvest, shows hands-free
 operation of a
 GPS-guided tractor in a field northeast of Fruita during a demonstration of precision agriculture technology. Farmers who decided to invest in the technology have seen the benefits of operating their equipment more efficiently, according to the general manager of U.S. Tractor & Harvest, a John Deere dealer, which has stores in Montrose and the San Luis Valley as well as Grand Junction.

A control screen shows a tractor’s progress through a field during a demonstration about GPS technology that was attended by two dozen or more growers recently.

Last week, farmers in the Grand Valley spent a day in the field, not working, but watching tractors drive themselves.

The tractors weren’t without operators, but the drivers did not have to touch the steering wheel in order to drive the machine straight across the field.

That’s because the tractors had been installed with precision agriculture technologies. Specifically, they were installed with auto-steer systems. 

U.S. Tractor & Harvest, the local John Deere dealership, held the event to demonstrate precision agriculture technologies, relatively new to farmers in the area.

“We don’t have a lot of this up in this area. There are just a few guys up here that use it, so we wanted to expose other farmers to it,” Jerett Bond said.

Bond works at U.S. Tractor in Grand Junction and organized the event. U.S. Tractors’ three other locations in Alamosa, Monte Vista and Montrose have held similar field day events.

The farmers that attended got the opportunity to test out the different auto-steer systems while representatives from the dealership showed them how to use them.

Auto-steer is a hands-free guidance system that helps farmers accurately drive across their fields without overlapping ground. The three different systems they demonstrated had accuracies of eight inches, four inches and within an inch. These systems use GPS and a mounted receiver to transmit the information to the monitor in the tractor.

Precision agriculture is nothing new. Precision ag technologies have been around since the early-1990s, but farmers in the Grand Valley have been slower to adopt them, mainly due to lack of exposure. But the benefits can be huge, Bond said.

“It comes down to savings — saving money, saving fuel, saving fertilizer and saving time,” Bond said.

Auto-steer systems can help prevent farmers from making overlap passes across the field and help them save money.

But, the initial investment can be intimidating to some farmers, costing them several thousand dollars to install equipment.

“You see these small screens with a big price tag and it’s hard for (farmers) to visualize what it’s really doing. So that’s what we’re doing here,” Bond said.

Despite the upfront cost, more and more producers are using precision ag technologies and seeing the benefits. Scott Van Horn, general manager of the U.S. Tractor stores, said he’s seen a widespread adoption of these technologies in the San Luis Valley and in Delta and Montrose counties where their other stores serve.

“When this first came out, we didn’t think it would take off like it did,” Van Horn said.

Holding similar field day events helped farmers actually see the benefits, Van Horn said. And not only do farmers save on fuel and time, they also do not get as fatigued while operating, he said.

U.S. Tractor brought out two tractors and different tilling equipment to the event and local grower Robert Sederlin donated the use of one of his tractors for the demonstration.

“I think it’s a wonderful thing if you can get past the price,” Sederlin said.

Sederlin said after getting to operate the different tractors with the auto-steer systems, he’s considering purchasing a system for his farm.

“I’d imagine it’ll be widespread here in a few years,” he said.

In order to spread word of the event, Bond directly contacted farmers and invited them to the demonstration. He got local growers Frank and Jack Fry to agree to use their recently harvested wheat field on which to demonstrate. They used the receiver of a local farmer who already has a system installed. Overall, about 25 to 30 growers in the area attended.

Bond said the dealership will try to do similar events in the future to expose farmers to different products and the latest trends in precision agriculture.


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