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Arrow-straight harvest

The justification for investing in automatic guidance systems -- even expensive subinch-accurate RTK systems -- is a foregone conclusion for large tractors and self-propelled sprayers. Today, more manufacturers are automatically installing guidance hardware at the factory.

Jeff Gray is a bit surprised that rapid acceptance of guidance in tractors hasn't taken place in combines "particularly in harvesters operating with superwide cutter platforms where an operator really can't see the edge of the crop to steer by when running in cereal crops," he says.

Guidance is still in its adoption phase, explains Gray of Claas Manufacturing. "Maybe a quarter of all combines sold last year were equipped with active guidance," he says. "We are seeing numbers greater than the industry average from the sale of automatic row sensing guidance for corn heads we introduced over a decade ago."

Still, the introduction of superwide platforms stretching out 35 feet and beyond in recent years is now inspiring operators to invest in guidance systems.

"We were overwhelmed with questions regarding combine guidance at farm shows this past winter," Gray recalls. "Last year's higher fuel prices inspired a lot of that interest because avoiding overlap is one of the most immediate paybacks in a guidance system."

Row-crop farmers are falling in love with the convenience offered by corn heads equipped with mechanical sensors that detect stalk position and guide the combine accordingly.

James Schneider discovered this technology allowed him to work longer, as he wasn't "so tensed up, constantly focusing on keeping the combine on the row." It also "permitted me to harvest when visibility is bad, like when there is a lot of dust in the evening," the Arthur, North Dakota, farmer explains. Schneider uses a Reichardt Ultra Guidance PSR system on his New Holland harvester.

Although he can't put an exact number to it, Schneider claims the investment in this technology has helped him cut harvest losses, particularly losses related to corn heads flying off the ends of the header.

The cost of combine guidance systems ranges from approximately $1,500 for a simple lightbar design up to $10,000 and beyond for RTK-accurate GPS systems.

The justification for investing in automatic guidance systems -- even expensive subinch-accurate RTK systems -- is a foregone conclusion for large tractors and self-propelled sprayers. Today, more manufacturers are automatically installing guidance hardware at the factory.

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