HUTCHINSON, Minn. — Technology is literally driving the exacting placement of seed and the application of crop protection products and fertilizers while increasing its capabilities each year.
From cameras that help guide machines down the row to nozzle control systems that offer precise droplet coverage to the ability to troubleshoot and reset systems from miles away, technology is vital in all aspects of crop production.
Keeping machines in good working order has become routine for most farmers, ag retailers and custom operators.
Annual preventative maintenance inspections conducted by trained machine and precision ag technicians, along with routine equipment service, maintenance and cleaning before storage, help ensure machines are ready to go to work the next season.
But how do you ensure the technology — the brains of the machine — is ready to go?
Joshua Ehlers, precision products coordinator at Heartland Ag Systems, an application equipment dealership headquartered in Hutchinson, offered some pointers based on his more than 20 years in the application technology industry.
The same end-of-season cleaning and storage prep for machines applies to the controller and technology. Keep things clean. Fertilizer is especially caustic if left clinging to equipment.
Discard all trash from inside the cab, vacuum the interior, inspect and replace cab air filters, and consider placing rodent bait or repellent to keep critters out.
“Rodents can play havoc with wiring, so keeping them out of equipment can save a lot of headaches,” Ehlers said.
He also recommends removing controllers or displays from the cab and storing them inside during the winter rather than leaving them in the machine outside or in a cold storage shed.
“Controllers are no different than your laptop, tablet or flat-screen TV. You wouldn’t want them outside all winter, but the rest of the systems are built and designed for harsh conditions, and IP67 or greater rating rated,” he said.
“Nodes are potted and sealed so there are not a lot of ways for moisture or grime to damage them.”
There are few things worse than loading a sprayer with expensive product or a spreader with fertilizer to find out something on the applicator is not working properly.
“We get many calls in the spring and fall, especially about dry fertilizer, and the caller says, ‘The bin’s loaded, and we can’t get the fertilizer to run out.’” Ehlers said. “The obvious response is, “Did it run before you loaded it?’ No one ever knows.”
So, in addition to running the machine, the belts, the conveyors and blowers, he said to put several hundred gallons of water through sprayers to make sure everything is working before loading the applicator.
Ehlers also recommends checking all the technology on the machine at least two to three days before you go to the field — a month before is even better.
Check The Control Systems
The same before season recommendations apply to firmware and software that allow your control systems to work up to their potential — guidance and steering, variable rate application, wireless communications, boom control, real-time weather records, data mapping and other things.
“Take each piece of equipment back outside, let it find GPS, start a job and run it, and just make sure that everything works,” Ehlers said.
“Get it out early to confirm it works and do a software check to be sure nothing is out of date,” he said, adding many technology providers update their software functionality each quarter.
With several different systems all tied into the same user interface, Ehlers knows it is important to complete software updates regularly and systematically.
There are two reasons. First, it keeps everything at the same level and “talking.”
“We have a lot of customers who update the display because that’s what they see in the cab, but they don’t necessarily update the backend — the nodes or electronic control units — that operate the auto-boom height control, the camera, the nozzle controls, etcetera,” Ehlers said.
“It’s also important to keep software current because when engineers release a new software version, they typically are not testing the new version on something that’s 10 versions old or on a single piece of equipment with a single component. They work within a range,” he said.
The trend toward ISO compatibility also reinforces the need to update software according to Ehlers, again to ensure all systems communicate.
“At first, I was skeptical about the move to ISO compatibility, but it has really made our lives easier within our manufacturing division where we build pull-type liquid applicators, spreaders, anhydrous toolbars and fertilizer tenders,” Ehlers said.
“With ISO, it doesn’t matter what brand of tractor the equipment is hooked to, the information communication works.”