DIY Yield Monitor Counts Kernels

FarmTRX, which records data, pairs with smartphones or tablets via Bluetooth for a live in-cab display and auto-generates yield maps, began as Perry Casson’s on-farm DIY prototype. ( FarmTRX )

Perry Casson had three combines on his farm and not a single working yield monitor. He wanted to collect yield data from his fields, though.

“You can’t manage what you don’t measure,” Casson says.

When he searched the market for the right device for his older combines, the high prices drove him back to the computer already in his pocket—a smartphone. Maybe he could build rather than buy.

Casson’s initiative resulted in FarmTRX, a low-cost, simple-to-install and easy-to-use yield monitoring system. The unit records data and pairs with smartphones or tablets via Bluetooth for live in-cab display and auto-generates yield maps. FarmTRX fits any combine with a clean grain elevator and can be installed by the user in fewer than four hours.

If money talks, savings talk louder. Casson’s retrofit effort, which began in 2015 as an on-farm DIY prototype, hit fields in harvest 2018 and is commercially available for under $2,000.

Casson, 54, is part of an emerging group of farmers versed in both agriculture and computer technology. Navigating around a tight growing window, Casson mainly raises small grains (barley, canola and wheat) on the relatively flat fields of west-central Saskatchewan near the town of Medstead, at the northern edge of Canada’s arable land.

After finishing high school in 1982, with a brutal ag economy casting a pall over his farming future, Casson attended a local technical college to become an electronics engineering technologist. Combined with a flair for innovative software development, Casson was a key part of a successful product development that culminated in a radio propagation modeling technology that was the “right product at the right time” during the global cellular network build-out. “It became the leading tool in North America and we sold out in 2001, taking a great offer we couldn’t refuse,” he says.

In 2015, Casson was running variable-rate fertilizer tests but needed a means to efficiently measure the results. After 10 mornings of spare time, Casson cobbled together the components of a FarmTRX prototype.

“I had the hardware skills to build the data logger and access to a software company I cofounded in 2004,” he says. “It was a confluence of expertise, new generation affordable chipsets and existing technology.”

By 2018, three harvest cycles later, Casson and his software company had FarmTRX ready. He found a local hardware partner skilled in manufacturing agri-electronics to handle building logistics.

Although designed to measure and display real-time harvest data in the cab, Casson says FarmTRX is suited for “the guy who just wants to get in and get harvest done and doesn’t want data collection to get in the way of doing work. Once the flurry of harvest is over, log into your account and everything is there to help make the complicated decisions,” he adds.

Casson emphasizes the ease of setup and installation. “It’s only a couple of hours if you’re handy hooking up wires and drilling a couple holes. Calibration is straightforward: Start a counter running and harvest a known area. Weigh the output and apply a correction factor to the default value to get the accuracy right. You can also do it all after the fact in the cloud if you don’t bother calibrating. Even if you run with the defaults, you can easily fix it all later,” he explains.

A wide spectrum of customers have purchased FarmTRX. “I thought our target customer would run mid-2000 or earlier combines that didn’t have factory-installed monitors, but guys have installed these on brand new $500,000 harvesters because the data is high quality and instantly available,” Casson says. “No tedious point cleaning or pulling memory cards.”

Joe Gordon, 29, operates a dairy farm and a custom harvesting service in Leeds County, Ontario. Taking time to search for a yield monitor for a 2003 Gleaner R65, Gordon was frustrated by prices. “We’re talking $10,000 for some monitors, and that includes a display that would otherwise just sit in the cab all year unless you had another use for it,” Gordon says. “I didn’t want to put down big money knowing it might be obsolete in just a few years.”

In the summer of 2018, he bought a FarmTRX unit for fall harvest in barley, corn, soybeans and wheat, and handled his own installation within a couple of hours. The system is an excellent fit according to Gordon. “It’s been very simple to use, and the calibration is so easy,” he says. “I use a tablet, and everything is straightforward to understand. I watch my expenses, and FarmTRX was ideal.”

Jared Schott, 50, grows 2,000 acres of corn, soybeans, sunflowers and wheat on land west of the Missouri River and north of the Grand River at the north-central tip of South Dakota. He spent a year researching yield monitors before he discovered
FarmTRX. “It was a no-brainer with the price point and capabilities. Even if I dropped $100,000 on a combine, I’d still put one of these in,” he says.

Installed in less than an hour on a 1680 Case IH during late harvest with snow on the ground, Schott says FarmTRX performance was excellent. “I’m software savvy, and this matched my wish list,” he says. “One easy calibration, a few tweaks and I knew my yields almost immediately. I don’t need an expensive monitor when I’ve already got a smartphone that’s paid for.

“Having done a little mapping and tracing the fields ahead of time, all I had to do was drive by in the semi, connect with my phone while my dad was in the combine and upload it to the cloud, and instantly on the way to town I could see the mapping and the yield and color,” he explains.

Schott bought seed for 2019 as yield data from 2018 rolled onto his smartphone. “We knew it right in the cab. We literally jumped down from the combine, sat down with our seed dealer and picked varieties for next year,” he adds.

Casson advises other producers to consider the long-term potential when taking an idea to market. FarmTRX required three years and a significant team to move from the first prototype to a commercial product cleared by all the compliance and licensing.

“I just did what farmers have done for hundreds of years. I had a problem and used the tools I had to fix the problem,” Casson adds. “There are more and more tech farmers out there with good ideas. If a product is useful to you as a farmer, it likely will be useful to others too. If I need three, my neighbor might need six.”