The goal of this project is to use precision farming tools to offer an alternative, innovative solution to the current problems facing organic and sustainable farming cultivation practices. In order to achieve this goal, farmers’ equipment was retrofitted with precision agriculture tools, including RTK GPS guidance, implement guidance, and auto-steer equipment. Subsequently, demonstration fields were set up in Martens farm located in Penn Yan and Geneva NY. The first test plot consisted of 20 acres of organic corn. The second was 15 acres of corn, and a third trial was added with 3 acres of dry beans. We will organize the results of our trials in a technical article, and by presenting at a least one field day and one winter conference.
Much of our 2012 project time was spent on installing, calibrating, and testing the precision agriculture technology in the farmers’ equipment. The precision agriculture consultant from Agrinetix (ANX), and the farmer Klaas Martens worked together installing the equipment in both the planter and the cultivator, testing the equipment in the field, and making adjustments until the farmer and the equipment operator were satisfied with the performance of the equipment and the results of the work.
Our first trial used RTK GPS guidance to steer the tractor that pulled the corn planter. We selected a fairly level field to minimize drifting of the 12 row John Deere planter. The tractor was guided by the GPS equipment to plant a 20 acre field. Then the tractor that pulled the cultivator was guided by the GPS to follow the same paths that the planting tractor had been guided on to. We did the first experiment this way because that is how many of the equipment manufacturers recommended using their GPS RTK to guide cultivation equipment.
Few farmers we talked with have been satisfied with the performance of RTK GPS when used in this way. Our results confirmed the experience of other farmers. The difference between the path the tractor followed and the path of the trailed corn planter was much greater than we had first anticipated. The deviation between the crop rows and the path of the cultivator was so great that the experiment failed totally. This was not surprising as it matched the experiences of most of the other farmers who have tried to do it this way. What was surprising was the magnitude of the differences between the paths of the first tractor, the planter and the second tractor. This clearly showed us why RTK GPS has not been widely adopted by farmers for guiding cultivators.
In our second trial, we mounted the RTK GPS on the planter and used it to record the exact path that had been traveled by the corn planter while planting our last 15 acres of corn. We then mounted the cultivator on a tractor equipped with a steering ball and used the RTK GPS to guide the tractor that pulled the cultivator along the path that the planter had followed. We had mounted a side shifter on the tractor hitch to allow the operator to fine tune the path of the cultivator hydraulically. This proved to be successful and produced satisfactory results. Because the planting season was not long enough to allow us to repeat the experiment, we planted a 3 acre field of dry beans for a second trial. These beans were not planted for harvest as it was too late for them to mature but they did provide us with an excellent opportunity to replicate our results.
The remaining tasks will be carried out in the 2013 growing season. After planting using the precision equipment, Klaas Martens (farmer), James Tillapaugh (ANX consultant), and Karl Czymmek (Technical adviser) will select the test plots for the two weed management practices. One of the plots will be cultivated using the innovative equipment and the other one using standard practices. Also, the farmer and the ANX consultant will organize a “field day” to show the new precision cultivation system in action. A survey will be distributed at the field day in order to capture attendants’ opinions. Additionally, both the farmer and the ANX consultant will collect the data needed to measure the equipment performance. The data consists of; the percent of weeds removed in both test plots, the amount of time spent on each plot, the amount of fuel used, and the crop damage percentage. After the growing season, the ANX consultant, assisted by a technical writer, will prepare an article and a report of the entire project for publication. Consequently, the ANX consultant and the farmer will present the results at a to be determined meeting.
RTK GPS technology is not widely used on smaller and medium sized farms. The potential benefits of using RTK GPS for weed control and precision farming practices on Northeastern farms have not yet been realized. Our field trials showed that one important reason for this lack of adoption has been the failure of the equipment to perform as expected. A primary reason for this has been our smaller fields and rolling topography.
We found that the CORS correction signal worked well on our farm. It provided excellent coverage even in small sloping and uneven fields. The accuracy of the RTK GPS equipment was very good. The main cause of our initial failures was the inability of our planting equipment to accurately follow the intended path with sufficient accuracy.
We have measured and recorded the magnitude of the differences between the intended path of the equipment and the actual path under relatively good conditions. The errors in planting were compounded by smaller additional errors in guiding the cultivator making our cumulative deviation too large in places for row crop work.
What we found was a classic case of what farmers call: ‘measuring with a micrometer and ‘cutting with a chainsaw.’ By placing our RTK GPS receiver on the planter itself, and recording the actual path of the planter rather than the predicted path, we were able to eliminate most of this error. This required extra time and effort from our Agrinetix experts and a second GPS unit to be used for guiding the planting tractor. Fortunately, they were committed to making the project be successful and had sufficient resources and expertise to follow through.
During equipment installation and testing, the ANX consultant kept a log of specific tasks and the amount of time spent on each task. This data will be used in the technical report and presentation. Multimedia, such as pictures and videos, were created for future reporting and presentations.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
After running and testing the innovative equipment, we learned that the GPS coordinates must be adjusted using GIS software before transferring them into the cultivation equipment. There was a limitation to testing the cultivation equipment. A 6-row cultivator was used to retrace guidance passes made by a 12-row planter, and gaps of 6-rows were left where the crop was uncultivated. In order to address this shortcoming, the Agrinetix GIS mapping department took guidance data from the corn planter passes. The data was manipulated and two 15-foot guidance passes were created from each 30-foot planter pass. This data was saved as new guidance passes on a USB flash drive to be imported into the cultivator tractor guidance system. The GIS technician’s adjustments solved the issue. This shows that it is possible to have different planting and cultivating equipment sizes, as long as an adjustment is made in the GPS coordinates by a GIS specialist.
Our farm has the same land base as last year but is increasing its amount of land being double cropped. We now have 40 additional head of heifers to feed. That gives us additional opportunities to utilize cover crops as forage and to plant more acres of forage crops. The demands of this added diversity and crop operations make finding a more efficient way to plant and cultivate our row crops without increasing our labor force much more important.
James Tillapaugh, ANX consultant: James is actively involved in the project. He has been helping in equipment installation, troubleshooting, testing, calibration, and data recording. He also serves as an intermediary between the farm and Agrinetix LLC. This includes the communication with the GIS specialist, as well as data transfer between Agrinetix services and the farm. James is committed to continue collaborating throughout the entire project in the areas of equipment service, data collection, field day organization, reporting, and data dissemination.
Jeremy Paris, Agrinetix Mapping/GIS Specialist: Jeremy is the assigned GIS specialist for this project. Jeremy participated in the manipulation of the GIS data, making it match our requirements. He is keeping a record of all the GPS coordinates generated in the project for future farm usage. He is also helping as customer support on data transferring issues between equipment.
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