Cellular systems are gaining momentum, but working with customers on the right solution for their farm is key to long-term satisfaction.
The benefit of RTK accuracy for farmers is well documented, but that doesn’t mean it’s free of frustrations.
Three years ago Kyle Haselman, precision farming technician with Haselman Ag in Leipsic, Ohio, got a call from a customer whose server crashed during Memorial Day weekend in the middle of planting.
“He was a vegetable grower who didn’t have any markers on his planter and his signal was down for three days,” Haselman says. “I ran to the shop to fabricate some temporary markers to get him up and running, but it was a headache for both of us.”
While RTK signals simplify and improve guidance for farmers, they are far from perfect, notes Haselman, who shared his approach to selling and servicing the technology with Precision Farming Dealer at the 2013 National No-Tillage Conference.
One of the problems Haselman runs into with new precision customers, or even those who have purchased precision technology in the past, is knowing which type of RTK system best suits their operation.
“The first question I ask customers is ‘What equipment do you have?’ and that will dictate the type of accuracy they need,” he says. “RTK is the hot topic that everyone thinks about and wants. But I would say 70-80% of people running RTK don’t need RTK level accuracy.”
Cellular-based RTK is an increasingly popular alternative to tower-based signals, because they tend to offer better coverage, especially in rural areas. But Haselman says he won’t try and oversell a customer on RTK. He’d rather start farmers off slow and work them up to a more complex system, which can avoid problems on the front end and forge a long-term business relationship.
“If a guy is only farming 500 acres of corn and soybeans and not strip-tilling, I’ll start him off with an OmniStar system,” says Haselman, who primarily sells Trimble and Ag Leader products. “I’ll try to find the right solution for each grower, based on their need.”
Typically, for tower-based RTK, Haselman recommends Trimble equipment to customers because there is a strong dealer network in northwestern Ohio. But for customers well-suited for cell-based RTK, he will steer them toward products that have built-in cellular modems.
The Ohio Dept. of Transportation manages a cell-based network of 50 Continuously Operating Reference Stations (CORS) and farmers can use the CORS network as a continuous reference station for RTK signals.
But like any cellular technology, reception is dependent on signal strength.
“The CORS network blends the data together, so if you don’t have great coverage to begin with, your accuracy is not going to be sub-inch like it should be,” he says. “What we ran into here, is farmers with no technology experience jumped on board with cell-based RTK in the heart of planting season. My phone was ringing off the hook with customers who had problems and I was constantly running around because I think farmers just weren’t ready for it.”
But Haselman does expect cellular-based RTK will eventually become more widespread, as dealers educate customers on the benefits and drawbacks, and also as the technology improves.
“I think cell-based is where we’re headed, but there are a few hiccups within the U.S. cell media support as far as coverage, gaps and dropped signals. It’s not 100% secure yet, at least not in northwestern Ohio,” he says. “However, as technology progresses, the data transfer of shape files, fertility files or sharing information between different monitors within tractors and combines in the field is going to be wireless. Cell-based solutions are going to be the wave of the future.”