Loran Steinlage could be considered one of the pioneers of precision farming. In the 1990s, he worked closely with engineers from John Deere’s Waterloo Tractor Works to field test the manufacturer’s then new Parallel Tracking guidance and vehicle control system. Since then, he’s upgraded systems and found a happy medium between RTK and SF1 guidance in his strip-till operation.
Steinlage farms 750 acres near West Union, Iowa, produces almost all continuous corn and some soybeans. He’s been strip-tilling all his acres for 5 years, with fields set up for controlled traffic.
Steinlage has two Deere track tractors, an 8220T with a StarFire 2600 controller directed by an SF1 signal and 8400T with a StarFire 3000 unit that uses an RTK signal.
“I don’t like to steer much any more,” Steinlage says. “We are getting sub-inch accuracy with the RTK signal, and with the SF1 signal, we see a gain or loss of one row over a quarter mile.
“We see a shift about 10% of the time with SF1, but we know how to adjust for that so we maintain our strip accuracy. Using the GLONASS (Global Navigation Satellite System) signal instead of WAAS (Wide Area Augmentation System), it’s pretty accurate.”
In the spring, Steinlage comes back with a rotary hoe pass before planting, using his 8400R with a 2600 controller following an SF1 signal. Then, he pulls his custom-built 12-row planter with the 8220T, using the RTK signal to maintain position on the strip-tilled zone.
“We added individual row controllers to the planter this year so we can go with variable-rate seeding,” he says. “The rate controller will control seeding rate. I like simple, and that unit is easy to use. I can plant as fast as 7.5 mph.”
After planting, Steinlage usually makes 2 passes with the 8220 and a 3-point hitch mounted sprayer with a 90 foot boom that has section control.
Points of Pain: Data Management & Online Assistance
Having collected farm data for several years, Steinlage is accustomed to less sophisticated technology to gather and store information. So when newer software platforms arrived, he was looking for better guidance when transferring his old data to the new system.
“I was one of the last to switch to Deere’s Apex farm management software,” he says. “I was happy with the JD Office program and was concerned about all the problems people were having with Apex. When we finally made the switch, we lost several years of data. It wouldn’t come across without being jumbled.
“I gave up on it for a few years, until our AMS representative from our local dealership took over managing the data for me and that has worked well. He also farms, so he intuitively knew what we needed.”
Steinlage has also been frustrated with how online help has been locked down so it’s only available through a subscription. He’s tried to work around the lockdown, but would like online assistance to be a little handier so he can try to diagnose and solve precision problems on his own, if possible.
“I have made it a practice to download any information I find and put it on a flash drive for later use,” Steinlage says.