More Efficiency in the Field

As a precision agriculture product and service dealer, Brian Baer understands his customers need reliable, fast solutions that improve efficiencies and increase uptime in the
field. They have short windows to work in, and common issues with cellular RTK correction outages halt progress and shut machines down.

To eliminate this frustration for customers, Baer began encouraging them to upgrade a SMART7 antenna or OEM7 receiver from Hexagon | NovAtel with the TerraStar-X Correction Service for the Corn Belt region. TerraStar-X is not only a satellite-derived correction service, it’s the highest performing in terms of accuracy and convergence time. This “RTK From the Sky” provides convergence in less than 1 minute with 2 cm of pass-to-pass accuracy and 99.9 percent uptime—all essential for Baer Ag Solutions customers or any modern grower.

With TerraStar-X Correction Services, customers now go all day without losing their corrections signal, no matter how far they travel, something that never really happened before, Baer said. And there is no need for radios or modems when corrections are delivered via satellite, reducing cab clutter and expenses. Worries about traveling too far from the RTK base station and losing signal are also eliminated; accuracy is consistent from anywhere within the coverage area.

TerraStar-X provides the performance, reliability and simplicity farmers need but can’t find with their current RTK solution, saving them time and, ultimately, money.

“I haven’t heard one complaint or had one troubleshooting call because of loss of connection or the service notworking properly,” Baer said. “My customers are in the field doing repeatable tasks. They planted crops and sprayed, and now we’re getting into the fall and they’re coming back for harvesting. The three or four times they’ve been in the field the accuracy and repeatability has been right on the money.”

A Solution that Offers Simplicity

TerraStar-X combines global and regional correction technology, providing a service with the precision and speed of traditional RTK networks without the need for base stations.

About 15 years ago, base stations could be found on just about every farm, Baer said. This expensive equipment required constant maintenance and didn’t offer the coverage growers needed. If they moved too far from the base station, they lost access to true RTK accuracy, which was a problem. Correction by cell RTK came next, and while an improvement, the service doesn’t work well in rural environments—which means farmers spend a lot of time troubleshooting coverage issues and waiting for their cellular connection to return.

Farmers using TerraStar-X for corrections don’t have to worry about additional radios, cell modems or cabling in the machine they’re operating, or the additional cell subscription costs associated with such equipment, said Eric Wuestefeld, vice president of agriculture sales at Hexagon | NovAtel.

The satellite correction service provides the accuracy they need, and does so without interruption.

“If the GNSS receiver sees the positioning satellites, it sees the correction signal as well,” Wuestefeld said. “There’s no need to worry about radios getting interfered with and blocked by buildings or trees. So, it provides simplicity for the farmer as well as the precision dealer aiding the farmer with their equipment.”

And as growers make the transition from semi-autonomous machines to fully autonomous systems, more components are being added that must work together f lawlessly, said Tanner Whitmire, business development manager, agriculture at Hexagon | NovAtel. TerraStar-X makes it possible to simplify the infrastructure and components, and that reduces the system complexity so fewer of them have to work together. The service reduces the number of components required for the vehicle to operate efficiently while providing the same performance as traditional RTK.

It’s also very easy for growers to use, Baer said.

“The grower turns on the autosteer system and everything is done in the background,” he said. “With corrections by cell RTK they needed a modem in the cab and to make sure they had a data plan and that everything connected correctly.”

Unmatched Accuracy

TerraStar-X provides growers with repeatable 2 centimeter pass-to-pass accuracy in less than a minute, giving them RTK From the Sky performance quickly and when they need it, Wuestefeld said.

This enables farmers to ensure their machines stay in those rows year after year, whether they’re planting, fertilizing or harvesting. The ability to follow the same path along the same rows time after time ensures they don’t runover and damage crops while working in the field, and that requires precise positioning.

Farmers typically don’t use markers to know where they are in the field, Baer said. Rather, they rely on GNSS to pinpoint their location to accurately apply fertilizer, chemicals or seed.

“That accuracy is just vital for the whole operation,” Baer said. “Corrected GPS is a must and I would say the majority of my customers run some sort of corrected GPS and the majority of those ran TerraStar-X this year.”

TerraStar-X reduces that complexity by providing the vehicle assured position so it knows where it is at all times. Accuracy is not only important for precise crop maintenance, it also protects the crop from heavy equipment that could cause damage.

“Farmers need to have confidence their vehicle is operating efficiently and with integrity so they’re not damaging crops,” Whitmire said. “Growers know TerraStar-X is increasing the vehicle’s navigation accuracy, which allows the vehicle to complete tasks with integrity.”

Reliability and Performance

TerraStar-X is there when farmers need it—and that leads to increased uptime and peace of mind, Wuestefeld said. They don’t have to worry about cell connectivity or the additional infrastructure required to maintain traditional RTK base stations.

“There’s less sitting and waiting on cell service, Baer said, “and the RTK convergence is incredibly fast.”

All users have to do is turn the autosteer system and the receiver on and they’re ready to go to the field, Baer said.

“It’s just so quick,” he said. “They don’t need to think about it or worry about processes.”

Most of Baer’s customers use the same guidance patterns with the autosteering system after planting, spraying, side dressing or harvesting, he said. These same pattern lines and spatial reference points are followed throughout the year, so they must be accurate every time. TerraStar-X delivers that accuracy without the hassle of troubleshooting connection issues or waiting on convergence.

TerraStar-X also provides added frequencies and constellations, Whitmire said, which is another huge benefit for farmers.

“There’s less concern about signal outages,” Whitmire said. “When you’re around areas where the sky is obstructed, maybe you’re next to tree lines, you can still maintain the same level of accuracy.”

Benefits for Baer Ag Solutions

Baer is always looking for products and services that can improve efficiencies for his customers, and TerraStar-X does exactly that, he said. Upgrading to this service makes sense for the farmers he works with, many of whom have expressed frustrations with the shortcomings of correction by cell RTK. And as his customers benefit from the reliability, accuracy and simplicity TerraStar-X offers, he certainly does too.

Unlike with cellular RTK corrections, Baer doesn’t have to spend a lot of time training customers on how to use TerraStar-X. There are a lot of processes to the cellular option; TerraStar-X is much simpler. He also doesn’t get calls anymore with problems that he needs to troubleshoot. Once customers are started with a subscription, they’re ready to go, freeing him up to do other things without interruption, whether that means spending time with his family (many of those troubleshooting calls came in on evenings and weekends) or working on equipment for customers in the field. Fewer calls mean he’s more efficient on the job, leaving room for more billable hours. “It got to be where I was spending a lot of time troubleshooting throughout the day and it wasn’t cost effective,” Baer said. “And the customer saw the service as not working and costing them time in the field.”

TerraStar-X also allows him to activate subscriptions or diagnose issues remotely without worrying about connectivity issues slowing down the process, he said, reducing the number of site visits he has to make. Because everything is so simple and seamless, customers are happier with their overall experience. They don’t have to be technology specialists while they’re in the cab; they can just turn on the machine and go.

“I’ve gotten nothing but good reviews from customers this summer, ”Baer said. “They’re telling me ‘hey, I’ve never ran this long before’ or ‘I’ve never had a day where I didn’t lose GPS or have to wait for something to start up.’ And that’s the big thing, the overall uptime. They don’t want to stop and wait.”

The Future

As the world population continues to grow, farmers have to find more efficient, reliable ways to plant, manage and harvest their crops. Correction services like TerraStar-X play a large role in that, providing farmers with the reliability, accuracy and simplicity they need to move from semiautonomous to fully autonomous solutions.

“It’s really about that reliability and the integrity of the vehicle moving forward without the operator in the cab,” Whitmire said. “The vehicle must be smart enough to know its location and where it is compared to the crops, and make sure that when it’s driving up and down rows year after year that it’s doing it accurately and precisely. Today, growers or the operators sitting in the cab have the ability to monitor and see whether the vehicle is performing with integrity. When you remove the operator, the machine has to know that type of information.”

The driving factor behind this, Whitmire said, is the influential technology that’s aiding in the decision making process. TerraStar-X provides better, faster and more accurate positioning information to these machines. Farmers can easily navigate through the field and ensure they plant the seed in the right location, or spray the right amount of fertilizer where it’s needed. No resources are wasted. Simply put, correction services allow these vehicles to become more efficient.

As vehicles and other technologies become more connected, Baer sees a bigger need for satellite correction services. He expects more of his customers to make the switch to TerraStar-X, as he’s allowing them to demo the correction service so they can experience the benefits first-hand.

“The growers push these processes to move forward. They keep asking us to do more and more in the field and that’s why we adapt and move forward with technology,” he said. “If we can do corrections by satellite, that takes a lot of the troubleshooting and the cellular bandwidth away. A lot of these systems will get overloaded because there’s not enough cell service to do machine think data transfer and correction by cell RTK.”

Today and in the future, it’s all about uptime and making the entire process from planting to harvesting as streamlined as possible without having to wait for services or equipment to perform.

At the end of the day, Baer said, customers don’t really care what they’re using; they just want it to work. And TerraStar-X works.

“It’s a system that works and works well,” he said. “They don’t have to pickup the phone and call for troubleshooting service. It shows I’m seeking out the products and services that are best for my customers.”

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