During this summer's wheat and barley harvest in California, producers in the San Joaquin Valley will have a chance to see first-hand AutoFarm hands-free GPS steering in use on a custom harvester's combine.

Currently, Neufeld Harvesting, from Inman, Kan., is combining wheat in the valley, running running six John Deere combines, five with conventional heads and one 2005 Model 9660 Deere with a 32 foot Reynolds stripper head. The combine with the stripper head is also equipped with a new AutoFarm RighTrac advanced GPS steering system.

The AutoFarm RighTrac, introduced in early 2007, offers 3-inch accuracy with repeatability. Repeatability means you accurately and consistently follow the same path season after season, year after year…whether tilling, planting, spraying or harvesting.

“The Hands-Free Harvest Tour basically gives producers a chance to evaluate AutoFarm GPS steering systems on custom harvesters' combines, where it really gets put to the acid test.

As anyone knows who has ever driven a combine, it's not easy when you're cutting wheat to keep that big header full or at capacity for hours at a time. You've got to keep it full if you want to be as fuel efficient and productive as possible, but it's not easy.

“That is, until you try the AutoFarm RightTrac. It's amazing to see it in operation and it quickly gives you a lot of other ideas on what GPS hands-free steering can do for you on other equipment, like your tractor or sprayer at other times in the season,” says Tom Morgan, AutoFarm vice-president, marketing.

Don Harmon, with Neufeld Harvesting, says, “As far as 3-inch accuracy, it's good. There might be a little wiggle once in a while but that's mostly unnoticeable. The owner stopped to take a look recently and said that combine was running ‘as straight as an arrow.’ You can really see the difference with our other five units being manually steered.”

“We have had some really dusty conditions and with a breeze following you, you can't see past the windshield wiper. With the RighTrac steering though, you don't have to worry about taking a full swath, when the dust clears you're still right on track. Without it, I might be 10 feet or more out of line when the dust goes away.”

“It's sure a lot easier eating my lunch while I'm working, too,” adds Harmon.

“Once you see GPS steering at work on a combine, you immediately see the benefits it can bring on your tractor, sprayer or other self-propelled equipment,” says Wade Stewart, AutoFarm field marketing manager. “When you can sit there, no hands on the wheel, and watch that combine take a full bite out of that crop, you'll see what it can mean in increased productivity, fuel efficiency, plus reduced operator fatigue. And, it can do it 24/7, day or night, or in dust and heat.”

Stewart continues, “Less operator fatigue is huge, especially for a custom harvester, but running hands-free also means the driver has time to make sure other things are running correctly because he doesn't have to constantly focus on driving.”

The AutoFarm Hands-Free Harvest Tour 2007 is also running in Texas and Oklahoma with two other custom crews who will both be heading northward cutting wheat as the crop matures.

These custom crews are the key to America's wheat harvest. Around 600 custom cutters bring about 35 percent of the country's grain crop to market.

The independent harvesters start in north Texas in late May, where the wheat ripens soonest, then follow the harvest north through Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, Nebraska and sometimes even Canada by early September.

A typical harvest season can take some crews 700 miles through five or six states between late-May and mid-July.