Mark & Paul Schweitzer Paul and Mike Schweitzer have been changing up tillage and fertilizer practices to reduce input costs, improve soil and water quality and maintain or increase yields over conventional tillage on their 1,200 acre, fourth-generation farm near Malta, Ill.

As they build on nearly 20 years of yield data, precision farming equipment plays an increasingly key role in their evolving farming operation.

“We overhaul our 1984 24-row John Deere 7000 planter every year. We continue to adapt it to take even greater advantage of our precision farming equipment,” says Paul.

The Schweitzers are participating in a Univ. of Illinois research project that compares variable-rate banded vs. broadcast fertilizer applications in different tillage systems. They banded P and K with an Orthman 8-row 1tRIPr strip-tiller last fall.

“The Trimble FmX monitor takes GPS information from a receiver mounted on the tractor and another mounted on the tillage tool toolbar to achieve sub-inch steering accuracy, while delivering variable-rate dry fertilizer to the ripper shanks,” says Mike. “The field trials are randomized and replicated, making accurate seed and fertilizer rates even more difficult.

“We couldn’t do this without the auto-steer and FmX systems. The same system will be used on the planter this spring,” he says.

When the Schweitzers first started using GPS guidance on their combine to collect yield data they also used an SF2 system with Wide Area Augmentation System (WASS) on the planter tractor and for cultivating and sidedressing.

“It was so much easier, especially sidedressing,” recalls, Mike.

They moved to a Trimble EZ-Steer and got even greater accuracy, says Paul.

“Its capability was so much better than even your best operator controlling it,” he says.

What Farmers Want From You is a series of farmer profiles that examine the scope of precision farming tools individual farmers are using on their operation, along with the frustrations that can occur with adopting new technology and how dealers can alleviate those "points of pain" for farm customers. For the latest additions to the series, visit our What Farmers Want From You feed.

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Both systems relied on SF2 technology. However, the FmX monitor uses GLONASS global navigation. “It can see as many as 13 satellites and signal dropout has almost disappeared. If it does, it gets picked up again almost immediately,” says Mike. “That greatly improves the accuracy we need for strip-tillage.”

They now get precision steering from the AutoTrac system on their John Deere 8410 that is used for most heavy field operations, including tiling. “With AutoTrac engaged, you can spend more time watching what’s going on with the planter; there is a lot to watch with 24 rows. The monitor also tracks planting rate and accuracy as well as fertilizer application,” Mike says.

Point of Pain: Upgrades and Brand Changes

When one company’s technology won’t talk with other equipment, it is a barrier to buying the equipment you really want or need, says Paul.

“We don’t like the fact that we have to buy additional platforms so specific to get our Trimble equipment to talk with our John Deere equipment,” Mike says. “Every one of those platforms adds costs.”

The Schweitzers started with Ag Leader’s InSight system, which worked with almost any brand and model of equipment. However, when their dealer switched to carrying Trimble equipment, they had to decide whether to stay with the Ag Leader equipment or take advantage of a Trimble trade-in offer.

“Trimble does a good job of making sure their equipment works with Deere equipment, but we had to unplug the Deere components entirely and use Trimble components in our John Deere 9770 STS combine,” Paul says.

On their combine, the Schweitzers were unable to directly plug-and-play the tilt and yaw sensor from their Trimble FmX system and used an older Ag Leader Edge display to monitor yield and moisture. They also use a Headsight auto-steer system that interfaces with the John Deere steering encoders.

While the step-up to the FmX monitor was an improvement, they still rely on the Ag Leader SMS desktop program to collect and analyze data.

“The Trimble dealer has been helpful with troubleshooting power or software issues as well as recalibration needed to get steering systems to work.  A call to our dealer usually ends with an immediate resolution,” says Mike. “If not, he typically conferences in technical support to cooperate on solving the issue.” 

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