John Deere sprayer in soybeans
SEEING THE ROWS: On the S&T Mund Farm, the sprayer “sees” the dry bean rows and automatically steers itself between them.

No more ‘row rage’

A North Dakota farmer equips his sprayer with a new vision system so the sprayer can see the row and steer itself.

Scott Mund used to have a bad case of “row rage.”

Row rage is how you might feel when you drive over some of your crop with the sprayer. Mund, Milnor, N.D., figures he was losing 5% of his stand.

Mund and his father, Thomas, who operate S&T Mund Farm, a corn, dry beans and soybean operation, use RTK GPS autosteer. The high-tech, satellite-based guidance system is accurate to less than an inch, but there was a problem: planter drift.  

The Munds farm some rolling ground. On side hills, the planter would slide slightly down the hill. The sprayer followed the RTK GPS system’s A-B line perfectly, but it would run over plants where the planter drifted. The operator had to manually try to steer the sprayer through those parts of the field. Even for an experienced operator, it wasn’t easy to stay between the rows.

“You can’t see the sprayer tires from the cab,” explains Eric Wiederholt, who runs the sprayer for Mund. He used to work for a cooperative and has sprayed over 100,000 acres in his career.

In the Mund’s JD R4038 sprayer, the operator sits too far back to see the tires clearly from the cab. The operator has to look ahead and line up a couple of points on the hood or the ladder frame with the rows to be able to steer the planter between them.

The operator had to sit in exactly the same spot, with the same posture to make that work.

“When you are running at 12-13 miles per hour, it is pretty tiring,” Wiederholt says.

Plus, the back end of the sprayer would drift on the side hills, too, especially when it was fully loaded.

“It was like riding a snowmobile and trying to stay in the tracks,” Mund says. “You could feel in your seat that the back end of the sprayer was sliding downhill, and you’d have to try to manually adjust.”

Mund figures the sprayer was running over about 5% of the crop. The losses mount quickly. In just one second, traveling at 15 miles per hour, you can drive over 90 corn plants.

Mund would see the squashed or missing plants from the combine cab. “I hated it,” he says. “Maximizing yields is all about managing little details, and this mistake was adding up fast.”

Vision solution
But Mund doesn’t suffer from row rage anymore. He installed John Deere’s new AutoTrac Vision System on the sprayer in 2016 and reduced stand loss to zero.

NEW TECHNOLOGY: Scott Mund points to the camera mounted on the sprayer that sees the rows.

The system consists of a camera mounted on the front of sprayer that sees the rows. Software tied into the autoguidance system steers the sprayer based on what the camera sees.

The operator can override the tractor and steer it manually, and the GPS system can automatically override the Vison System.

OPERATING EASE: Eric Wiederholt watches to make sure the sprayer doesn’t run over rows, even where the planter has drifted on side hills. But a vision system sees the rows and steers the sprayer. The position of the tires between the rows can be seen in the cab.

John Deere’s AutoTrac Vision System works best in 30-inch rows when the crop is at least 6 inches tall, the company says. It works as long as there is at least 3 inches of soil showing between rows. There’s an AutoTrac Row Sense option, too, for use in corn. It consists of a set of “feelers” on the inside of the front wheels that touch the corn rows. The feelers generate a signal to the guidance system and will keep the sprayer between the rows. It works in corn that is up to 4 feet tall.

Increased capacity
Beside eliminating stand loss, the AutoTrac Vision System has increased capacity. The operator doesn’t get as tired, and — if necessary — the operating speed can be increased. Mund figures they can get over about 850 acres a day comfortably.

“We don’t have many days with ideal spraying conditions, so when we get the right weather, we really want to go,” Mund says.

$5,000 cost
Mund spent about $5,000 on the AutoTrac Vison System and subscription.

“It costs money, but crop damage costs money, too,” Mund says.

See a John Deere video about the AutoTrac Vision System at youtube.com/watch?v=T03MxU_R2P0.

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