As featured in Arable Farming Magazine
Joined up thinking for roots
by Arable Farming Magazine April issue
High value root crops have the potential to benefit from precision agriculture and collaboration may be the way forward.
Growing root crops in rows and beds means that working straight and maintaining predetermined lines offers the greatest efficiency and optimum yields.
But in practice, preparing soil, planting and harvesting of root crops such as potatoes and onions involves multiple implements and tractors, often working on variable and sloping land, which presents a steering challenge.
Steering systems In addition, passive steering systems, which require the tractor to steer slightly out of the row on a side slope to ensure the implement – such as a cereal drill – tracks straight, are by the nature of row and bed systems, not suitable.
Root crop machinery specialist Scanstone has been fitting steering systems to its stone separators for several years, but upgrades to John Deere software and collaboration with precision ag specialists in Deere’s dealer network has now made the process simpler, quicker and more versatile.
Specialist Ripon Farm Services (RFS) precision agriculture specialist Jack Forman says: “We can supply a steering kit with a controller which can be swapped quickly and easily between implements.
“We work closely with the implement manufacturer to ensure the system is properly integrated.
It is now an active, implement-based steering system, rather than being tractor-based, which means the GreenStar system will steer the tractor and the implement independently of each other along the same guidance line.”
The system has also been adapted to work with multiple tractor brands and older John Deere models.
Latest versions can use a tractor-integrated selective control valve as the control source, which can communicate with the controller on the implement, while a standalone valve is needed for older and third-party tractors.
An application controller is fitted on the implement in a protective polycarbonate box and linked forwards to the tractor and backwards to the receiver on the implement frame and to a steering sensor on the axle.
Accuracy Once initially installed, the implement is stored as a ‘profile’ in the control software for a quick changeover on subsequent fitting.
The RTK signal is picked up by the receiver on the tractor and transmitted to the receiver on the implement, eliminating the need for the second receiver to be unlocked to full RTK accuracy.
Field position is established and the tractor and destoner are steered according to the guidance lines from field maps sent via the MyJohnDeere portal, either from another tractor or direct from the John Deere Operations Center application in the farm office.
Scanstone destoners are now supplied ‘steering ready’, and older versions can be upgraded; Kitchen Garden Produce (see case study) has had the system fitted to 2019 and 2018 models, as well as to a 2004 Jones Engineering windrower.
In addition to increasing the accuracy and thus potential output for two-row systems, it also offers growers the potential for expansion, making matching up for a four-row harvester much simpler, says Stephen Hesledon, Scanstone (Brigg) service specialist.
Partnership RFS is looking to expand the service to other machines and is already working with Chafer sprayers.
Mr Forman works closely with the implement suppliers using the relevant components from both sides of the partnership to build up and install the system.
He also offers technical support, including via John Deere’s Remote Display Access, which allows technicians to view the tractor terminal remotely.
He says: “Updates to John Deere’s Operations Center make the support of such systems, as well as monitoring by farm managers, so much simpler and more effective.
“But we also offer in-field backup to set up and operate the steering.”
A John Deere steering system complete with second SF1 receiver is priced at around £8,000
In the field Kitchen Garden Produce, Lincolnshire
Kitchen Garden Produce, Market Rasen, supplies 70% of the shallots sold in the UK, marketing directly to four multiples.
Freddie Grant, farms manager at the business, has fitted John Deere RTK steering systems to his Scanstone destoners, Jones Engineering windrower and Scanstone Panther onion lifter.
Operations were taken in-house by Mr Grant in 2021, along with a move away from ploughing to subsoiling and ridging in autumn, before weathering land over winter ahead of planting commencing in the third week of March.
Seed is planted into a fine tilth in shallow, 1.8-metre wide beds with four rows per bed, so accuracy is key.
Mr Grant says: “We farm on limestone land and being able to steer the implements helps to manage the stone better.
By taking care of the steering, it means the destoner operator can focus on where he is disposing of the stone.
After success with the destoner, we have extended the system to the other implements.”
On the harvester, steering more accurately in the row means the 1m wide digger web is not plucking stones from the outside.
“We’re noticing less bruises and skin damage,” says Mr Grant.
“Using RTK on the windrower and the harvester, we can work at 10kph without picking up stones, which would not be achievable with manual steering, and the operator can concentrate on the soil conditions and not worry about steering the harvester.
Grading “It also means the trailers can safely be turned around a lot quicker and they are full of crop rather than a mixture of crop and stone, so grading is more efficient.”
Mr Grant hires in two John Deere 6155R and 6215R tractors from RFS to work alongside the business’ 6930 and 6215R machines and guidance lines are shared from the first pass by the ridger.
Mr Forman says: “This was a challenge initially, but a software update means all tractors can now follow the same guidance lines, shared via MyJohnDeere and displayed on the tractor terminal.”
The in-cab display shows the operation of the selective control valve and the active guidance on a ‘mixed’ screen layout for simplicity, with the mapping underneath.
Mr Grant adds: “It’s easy to operate and there’s just the tractor display and destoner control in the cab, which is straightforward by root crop machinery standards.
“We believe that fitting RTK steering to the destoner has increased destoning output by some 20%.”