Dear friends, we would like to introduce a series of articles that aim showing farmers how to benefit from using tractor GPS systems in their digital farming work. To measure the benefits of using an auto steering system we have decided to ask our community to share how they calculate material and show other advantages of using GPS systems. We have invited Willem Nammensma to share his experience. Mr Willem has a lot of experience!
Willem grew up in the Netherlands on a typical Dutch farm, growing potatoes, onions, sugar beets and cereals. He has many experiences with farming in different countries, like Switzerland, Germany, Georgia and Ukraine, growing crops, sugar beets, wheat, rapeseed, potatoes and others. He is also teaching (the prospective) farmers how to implement modern precision agriculture solutions, without them losing their focus on the basics of crop growing. Willem agreed to share with us some tips and guidance on how to calculate the benefits of using a GPS system for farmers. The payback of the autosteer system depends a lot on many parameters and basically are very specific to each particular farm. Most important are:
  1. The size of a farm;
  2. Type of a farm (organic / conventional);
  3. The types of crops you grow;
  4. The types of operations are executed by the farmer himself/herself (as some important field-operations might be executed by the contract worker);
  5. Employees, seasonal workers, friends, family, or one-man-company;
  6. Size, shape and location of fields (owned or seasonal rental);
  7. Day and night operations;
  8. The implement behind the tractor
Please tell us how farmers can to calculate payback from using the autosteer system? Willem: “Basically each farmer needs to analyze and calculate the following steps:
  1. Accuracy (actual overlap, actual application rate/ha, etc. without GPS);
  2. Effectivity (actual days worked at optimal conditions, and actual non-optimal days);
  3. Efficiency (actual working hours equipment + down time)
Every farmer knows where he makes mistakes. The GPS-system makes sure you are more focused on the important tasks like seeding, planting, spraying or fertilizing instead of trying to drive straight. With this change of focus, steps 1, 2 and 3 will be automatically improved. Even with small improvements, it is possible to save and earn money at the same time. The system will automatically steer your tractor; as a result the savings and earnings will also go up automatically.” Can you give a real life example? Willem: “Yes, let’s take a farmer who grows winter wheat. If he can increase his accuracy and efficiency by means of time savings, seed, fertilizer and crop protection savings, as well as better timing, he doesn’t only reduce costs, but also increases his yield. Think about following steps:
  1. Soil preparation (less overlap, more efficiency);
  2. Seeding (less overlap, less seeds/ha, more efficiency, less fuel consumption etc.);
  3. Spraying (less overlap, less residue, more accurate application);
  4. Harvesting (due to a more equal crop, the harvest moment is optimized).”
How much materials do you think farmers can save using the auto steer system? Willem: “Let’s take a 3 meter seeder for winter wheat. It is difficult to drive the whole day without GPS at the accuracy less than 15cm on average, especially on hilly fields, or in the evening or at night time. The RTK-GPS will increase the accuracy from 15 cm to 2 cm, meaning a huge increase in accuracy. 15 cm on 3 meters working width is 5%, 2 cm on 3 meters working width is only 0,67%!! I mean an accuracy increase 4,3%. Another example is the harvester. The wider the header is, the more it is to use its full width. Using tractor autosteer you will see increases of much more than 5%.”
Are there any other benefits from using a GPS system, except for materials savings, and how can on measure them? Willem: “As mentioned previously, the GPS-system does all the straight driving. Especially during long days this means the operator is less tired and more focused on the really important work. Night time and foggy conditions aren’t limitations anymore. Another attractive feature is the ability to do the registration of field work. Legislation requires every operation being documented. This can be done in the office having handwritten notes prepared in advance, or during the work with help of the GPS-system and platform. If you have multiple employees and different kinds of fields, the GPS/system could prevent error and warn off certain obstacles, like wet spots, gas pipes, drainage and others. So what is the pay back of the autosteer system for farmers who grow winter wheat? Willem: “Taking a very standard example of improving all steps by 5%, accuracy and efficiency, it could mean an increase of gross margin by €120,00 per hectare. Saving on labor and worktime at 0,4 hour per hectare is also substantial. You can calculate your payback time depending on your area. However, a farmer needs to analyze the benefits of such a system for himself. One purchases it because of the potential savings and increase in income, another purchases it because of the great improvement of work conditions. Not all aspects are accountable directly, but most farmers know how to evaluate, count and calculate the benefits for their company. No need to say, but the higher the value of the crops, the quicker the payback!” Your recommendation to farmers who haven’t used auto steer yet in their work? Willem: “Start using it now, it will guide you through the fields of joy!”

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