While some farmers are still a little leery of technology, or perhaps skeptical of its value for the money, more and more are turning to modern tech tools to streamline operations on their farms. In the process, they are discovering that even basic advancements like auto-steering, section control and GPS-optimized yield maps offer a good return on investment. Additional tech tools like dual monitors further improve efficiency by making it easier to manage in-cab software systems and keep on top of crucial info on field conditions. Software systems to help manage multi-variety planting and variable rate seeding are also useful tools for maximizing yield. In this installment of our tractor tools blog series, we explore some of these technology aids.


Auto Steering

Simply put, an “auto steering” system automatically steers your farm vehicle with high precision, adjusting your position and correcting your path to maintain even rows and follow the terrain. This allows your combine or planter operator to spend more of their time and attention on monitoring their in-cab information systems and their equipment, rather than having to concentrate on steering to stay on the row. This technology is offered by many vendors, including Trimble, Novariant, Case, and more.

Product Rate and Section Control

Having the ability to manage the application of multiple different products on a single pass through the field offers a drastic increase in farming efficiency. As one example, John Deere is rolling out its new Rate Controller 2000 to provide high-resolution product control. It can be used with both John Deere and other manufacturers’ equipment and implements, including pull-type sprayers, liquid and dry fertilizer systems, anhydrous applicators and some planters.

John Deere notes that when the Rate Controller 2000 is used with JD Section Control activation, it “aids in field documentation, map-based prescription applications, and overlap control.” The new rate controller allows operators to manage the application of up to five different products, liquid or dry. It also offers improved section control capabilities during those applications.

While a farmer used to have to make a second pass through the fields to cultivate out cross rows, now with the use of Section Controllers, there is no overlap so the second pass is not needed. This saves time and equipment usage. Also, with no overlap, less seed is used to cover the same area and achieve the desired yield.

Dual monitors in the cab

Farmers have a need to monitor a significant amount of data while in the tractor cab, from machinery and implement settings and condition to precision ag factors like seeding rate and fertilizer application. To avoid switching from one data view to another, dual monitors can give you the real estate to see more information at once and to easily arrange the data in the way you want to see it – for example, displaying all equipment data on one screen and all planting information on the other.

One such solution is John Deere’s new Gen 4 Extended Monitor, designed to work exclusively with the 4600 CommandCenter as a two-screen solution that is easy to install into the cab, and easy to customize and use. If you already have a JD tractor with an in-cab display, the Gen 4 allows you to expand your system without requiring complicated set-up or software updates, and without incurring problems caused by data conversion and duplicate or mismatched data between multiple systems. The company states that their Gen 4 Extended Monitor is a less costly solution than installing a third-party secondary display system.

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GPS-Optimized Yield Maps

GPS-optimized yield maps help growers make more informed seed selections for next year’s planting. Often, farmers already know if there are issues in certain fields, but the GPS maps help to better define what the issues are and exactly where they are occurring. When you are making seed decisions for next year, GPS -optimized maps can offer better insight, allowing you to:

  • Make side-by-side comparisons of seed – and not just in general, but also side by side in different scenarios (wet versus drought conditions, soil types, etc.)
    • See how different varieties or hybrids react in different environments.
    • g. which yielded better in the wet areas of your farm.
  • Identify areas of farm that will need improvements (such as installing tile drainage) next year
    • GPS lets you quantify the difference in yield in a wet area of the farm versus drier regions, which then lets you assess potential yield increase for that area if it were improved through tiling.
    • Similarly, GPS can also help you identify areas that might benefit from irrigation, and estimate how much that modification might improve your yield in that section of field.

Variable Rate Seeding

Variable Rate Seeding is a “a digitally enabled process… that uses data such as soil analysis to know not only which types of crops will grow optimally in what part of a farm, but also how many seeds to plant per acre.” Before such technology existed, farmers would have to wait until the current year’s harvest was in to assess which crops or varieties / hybrids grew well in which areas of the farm, and rely on these observations to make their plans and seed purchases for the next growing season. Now such decisions can be made further in advance, based on digital sensors and monitoring systems used in the field in real-time during the planting and growing seasons. Yields can be monitored and issues analyzed to potentially save crops in the current year, and to make better planting decisions for the following year. Research has demonstrated yield increases of several bushels per acre (compared to test plots) when planting rate is varied on the fly using digital systems to monitor and adjust as you plant the field.

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Multi-Hybrid Seeding Programs

Farm equipment and crop inputs such as fertilizers are expensive, so “digital farmers are leveraging tools that help them use less and yet reap more.” For example, digital tools have created multi-hybrid (or multi-variety) seeding programs that make it easier for farmers to plant one or more hybrids or varieties in a single area of their farm. This might be done to accommodate wet areas versus drought-prone areas of the field in order to maximize potential yield. These tools have digital monitors that relay data back to the farmer, highlighting when and where to plant seeds more likely to thrive in that area’s conditions or soil type.


All of these tech tools together help to make farms more productive and efficient, and allow growers to somewhat predict and mitigate risk (such as pests, disease, weather, and soil conditions) in the field. Instead of always basing planting decisions on past data and experience, farmers can use tools that help them evaluate real-time data and even look forward. For example, weather trends can be studied in real time, and growers can review plot results and variety/hybrid characteristics to help predict which seed would flourish on their farms. This allows growers to make more informed decisions and ultimately achieve higher yields with fewer resources and less waste.


Feature image credit: Pavel Losevsky / Getty Images / 100297383