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Way beyond yield monitors

Agriculture.com Staff 08/09/2006 @ 10:51am

The electronic revolution that swept across agriculture in the 1970s and 1980s brought with it a treasure trove of sensors, monitors, and controllers that spawned the precision agriculture movement of the 1990s.

And poster child of precision ag, the yield monitor was the "killer application" of electronic technology, says Jess Lowenberg-DeBoer, a Purdue University economist. "It quickly became the must-have accessory for many farmers."

Half the nation's corn crop is now measured by a yield monitor, the USDA estimates. Manufacturers report two out of every three combines leaving factory floors are equipped with such analysis equipment. "Very soon yield monitors with GPS capability will no longer be an option but a standard feature of combines," predicts Scott Shearer of the University of Kentucky.

Helping that prediction come true is a generation of systems that not only are more accurate but also don't require constant recalibration. "Existing sensor technology, including our previous yield sensors, had to be temperature compensated and required frequent recalibration," says Dexter Schaible of AGCO's product management division. "Accuracy on slopes has been questionable at best, and changes in crop flow based on either yield or engine rpm affect yield-sensing accuracy as well."

AGCO cured those problems with an advanced mass flow sensor introduced in 2004. "This illustrates the advances the industry has made to make yield sensors that give a frequency response that is proportional to mass flow rate and is constant at different flow rates," Shearer says. "This means you can do one calibration at a flow rate of 10 bushels per minute, and it should be good for 20, 30, or whatever."

The electronic revolution that swept across agriculture in the 1970s and 1980s brought with it a treasure trove of sensors, monitors, and controllers that spawned the precision agriculture movement of the 1990s.

Beyond becoming deadly accurate, grain sensor capacities have grown to detect yields "for almost every crop that can be mechanically harvested," says Lowenberg-DeBoer. That list includes cotton, potatoes, sugar beets and cane, tomatoes, grapes, and most recently, forages.

Today's yield monitors can be precise to within plus or minus 1%. But to reach that level of accuracy, it is essential you check the accuracy of the monitor and calibrate as necessary, urges Nathan Watermeier. The Ohio State University engineer provides a thorough guide to calibration tips at precisionag.osu.edu/resources.

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