Editor's Note: Adam Gittins, general manager of HTS Ag in Harlan, Iowa, is considered a pioneer and early adopter of precision farming technology. His career history includes stints with Ag Leader, heavy involvement at his family farm and his current position with HTS Ag. Gittins recently shared his thoughts on the value of auto-steer over at the HTS Ag Blog. Stay tuned for more updates from Gittins at HTSag.com.
March 25, 2015 — On this foggy, overcast morning late in March, I’m sure that some of the same thoughts are racing through my mind as what many other farmers are experiencing – mostly a mile long list of things to get done before planting, and in a flash spring fieldwork will be done and over like every other year. I was lucky enough to get a small window of field work in on my farm before the rain this week, and got some dry fertilizer spread.
I will say I was very thankful to have an autosteer system while performing this task especially, since it is always so hard to tell how far away from the previous pass you are, and overlap can become quite costly with fertilizer prices not sliding back even though the commodity prices have diminished considerably over the last couple of years.
This got me thinking about my investment in autosteer for my farm, and all of the impacts of it. I asked myself the question, is this system just a luxury item, or is it actually a tool that is saving money and improving efficiency? Let’s look into this for my operation and break it down.
Pass #1 for the year for me is with a pull type fertilizer spreader, like I previously mentioned. Without autosteer on this tractor, I am very sure that I would overlap at least 10 feet with each pass, or around 15%. I would also add that my window of being able to spread is larger, as I was able to spread after dark and have confidence that I could still do a good job. If you spread your own fertilizer, take your total dollars spent times 15% to see what autosteer could save you.
For me, this is a little over $2,000 in fertilizer savings!
Pass #2 is with the same tractor, but this time putting on NH3. Again, I have an increased window of operation, as I can run NH3 in the dark with high confidence. Without autosteer on this pass, I typically see myself overlapping 1 knife on the bar, probably half of the time that I am running. That works out to be about a 7% overlap (overlapping 1 knife), or about 3.5% overall overlap if I am only doing that half of the time. This adds up to about $700 for this pass.
Pass #3 still with the same tractor is planting. Since most every planter has markers, the overlap effect is not nearly as large here. In fact, I wouldn’t plan on even being able to calculate a number for that on a planter. The big advantage here is being able to watch the planter, and ensure that it is doing a good job. Sure, that is also important with NH3, but you only get one chance to plant the seed, and we need to do everything we can to do it right! Autosteer here extends my window of operation, allowing me to run late nights when necessary, but the most important part for me is to keep a close eye on what the planter is doing, instead of where I am going. Planter markers have been proven to be the #1 reason of downtime on planters, so without using them, I can eliminate that possibility. If you are feeling really brave, you could order a new planter without markers, saving you $7,000. I can also make the case here that timing is everything, especially in a wet spring when we have short periods of time to get the work done. I will put down a dollar figure here, but this is purely an estimate on my part, and not something that can be penciled out. I believe this pass with autosteer is worth $5,600 in my operation. That works out to less than one bushel of soybeans per acre, or about 2 bushels of corn. I am sure my yields have improved by more than that because of the reasons listed above.
All totaled up in my small operation of about 800 acres, autosteer saves me $8,300 each year just for these three passes. That will pay for most, if not all of the system in the first year of using it! By year two, it is just pure profit to my bottom line.
Now I challenge you, is autosteer a luxury or a valuable tool for your operation???