farm progress sprayer

See & Spray Ultimate uses 36 cameras mounted every 3.28 feet across the 120-foot carbon fiber truss-style boom. 

BOONE, Iowa — Catch a University of Nebraska ag engineer at a farm show and my attention always sparks just a bit.  At the recent National Farm Progress Show in Boone, Iowa, my good fortune was Santosh Pita. Pita is with the engineering department of the University of Nebraska. He was talking about robotic tractors. Dr. Pita is a native of India and possesses graduate degrees from three universities in the United States.

 “You’re looking at a 60 horsepower, robotic tractor … all-wheel speed and all-wheel drive,” Pita said. “And we can do multiple operations with this. We’re looking at row-crop planting, also cover crop drilling so this machine can follow a combine and immediately drill the cover crop seed. We’re set up for a two-row operation right now, but if horsepower is stepped up it could do more rows.”

“This is a research proto-type;” Pita went on to say, “but even so, a few farmers are already asking if they might purchase such a machine. So that is why myself and a graduate student are doing a start-up company called Plains Technology. Depending upon size, but our price projections are a range of $80,000 to $200,000.”

“We’re thinking maybe six to seven years might be its useful life span,” Pita admitted. “Then something simply better likely will be available — if not from us, then from others who see a healthy future for robotic tractors.”

Flex-Row is the name for this soon to be robotic tractor. Yep, appears to me robotic tractors are inevitable. Cotton farmers in the ‘Deep South’ might be the quickest to gin up to robotic power. But as soon as a reliable robotic power supplier springs up here in the northern prairies, there’s likely to be an explosion of robotic power across the Midwest.

Another technological advancement which has changed how we live is today’s cameras and image-capturing. High resolution cameras are now in our phones and our doorbells; and are a mandatory accessory on police uniforms. But cameras and field sprayers?

Called the “See & Spray” system, this remarkable technology was on display at the National Farm Progress event in Boone, Iowa. The contraption does exactly what its name says: It only sprays when it sees a weed!

Explained Franklin Peitz, John Deere’s Marketing Manager for JD Sprayers, “Yes, essentially we’ve got two sprayers in one system. We’ve got a split tank with independent plumbing all the way down the boom going down to two different nozzle bodies with two different nozzle tips. So you can be spraying a residual while simultaneously spraying a non-residual. Or spraying a fungicide while spraying a herbicide.”

Talk about technology, get this:  See & Spray Ultimate uses 36 cameras mounted every 3.28 feet across the 120-foot carbon fiber truss-style boom. These cameras are networked together, scanning more than 2,100 square feet per second and capturing 40 images in a blink of an eye as the sprayer moves through the field.

So the inevitable question:  Does it miss a few weeds?

Peitz said, “The ‘hit rate’ with this unit is comparable to broadcast spraying. We’re not seeing any more misses than you would in a regular sprayer.” 

JD literature suggests the unit can reduce non-residual herbicide use by more than two-thirds!  This enables operators to spray more acres per load while reducing the environmental impact. 

Peitz indicated See & Spray systems will be distributed to John Deere dealers across the Midwest by spring. The factory-installed system will be available for model year 2023 John Deere 410R, 412R and 612 sprayers. JD’s Ankeny, Iowa manufacturing facility is the source of this equipment. 

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