Economical hands-off autosteer back again

This $4,000 option doesn’t create pretty pictures, but it will 
keep farmers on the straight and narrow

A marketplace void always attracts an entrepreneur to plug it. For example, until recently there was no low-cost low-tech GPS autosteer for farmers who don’t need or want big time, high tech RTK.

That void is currently being filled by a US$3,995 system called Wheelman, developed by an Arizona company called AgJunction. It is an uncomplicated new way to automatically steer an implement and improve farmers’ bottom line for a relatively low price, says AgJunction spokesperson D’Albert Benoit.

Farmers will recall that’s about what the first Outback systems cost in 2001. The new AgJunction device is in response to small and medium size farmers who say they don’t need all the bells and whistles that are automatically part of modern guidance systems.

“We have a different approach to the marketplace. There are 500 million farms around the world, most of which don’t have autosteer,” said Benoit.

“Our strategy is not to go after large farms or corporate farms. We’re interested in what we call the family farm, probably under 1,000 acres. Our data says most of those sub-1,000 acre farms do not have any type of autosteer. We want to bring them a product that can make them more profitable without the burden of a heavy investment.”

Benoit said most of the farmers in this niche do not practice precision farming, collect yield maps or work with topography and zones. The left-right steering accuracy is six inches within a quarter mile run, he added, which is adequate to get the job done for most producers.

“This a full electric auto steering device that controls your steering. All you have to do is apply gas, and the Wheelman Pro will manage the steering for you.”

Wheelman brings us back to that point 18 years ago when autosteer first became available to prairie farmers with the introduction of OutBack at the Western Canada Farm Progress Show. Both are simple systems intended to do one thing well: help operators drive a straight line.

The system arrives in a box containing everything needed to install, including GPS antenna. The electric drive hub is installed by removing the steering wheel, slipping the Wheelman hub over and fastening it and then dropping the original steering wheel back into place.

“We have a price advantage over the competition, but we also have a policy that everything is included in that $3,995 price,” Benoit said.

“There are no extras costs or hidden charges. It’s all in the box and it takes about an hour to install and turn it on. And it’s a WASS system, so there’s no subscription fee. The signal is always free.

“We have what we call the World Ap, which comes with the device, allowing us to send you a map that shows you your field as you’re working. As the machine drives down the field, you can actually see on the map your paths, your swaths and your way lines.

“Eventually we’ll get to the point where you can create boundaries on this map. It’s not available right now, but it will be ready early next year. There’s no extra cost for that. As soon as we have new features ready, they will automatically load onto your device.”

Benoit said there is a place for Wheelman autosteer on big farms. It is suitable for machines like swathers and cultivator tractors that don’t require one-inch accuracy. The operator can see where he’s been and where he has to go. Nor do these machines use prescription maps or as-applied maps.

“There are four modes of steering control: Straight AB, Contour AB, Pivot and Field Contour,” he said.

“Currently we have Straight and Contour, and we will support the other two modes next year. We have over 350 kits today, which support a variety of makes and models of tractors. We are currently certifying swathers, sprayers and combines, and they should be ready in 2019. Also, we’ll be available in Canada, with tech support, in early 2019. That infrastructure is being developed now.”

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