“It is very important that the tractor pulling the inverter passes as close as possible over the centerline on which the peanuts were planted. Otherwise, the inverter will cut off sections of the vines and those peanuts will remain in the soil and be lost to the farmer,” Vellidis said.

Auto-steer also allows farmers to watch their crops being planted and harvested without worrying about veering off course. The farmer still needs to turn the tractor into a row and make a turn at the end of the row.

Auto-steer surprised the UGA research team when it greatly out-performed the human driver on straight and curved rows.

“It was originally assumed that under low curvature conditions, a human operator would be able to follow the centerline well,” Vellidis said. “In fact, the solid green peanut canopy encountered when inverting peanuts makes it difficult for the human operator to align the tractor with the planting centerline, whereas the auto-steer system can place the tractor within 2.5 cm of the centerline.”

“This new technology has been available for more than 10 years, but has only recently been adopted by farmers in large numbers.

“Peanut industry observers report that auto-steer is quickly becoming an essential tool for farmers in the Southeastern USA who include peanuts in their crop rotation,” Vellidis said.

He estimates 50 percent of farmers now use auto-steer, and some use it on multiple farm vehicles.

“The user-interface may be a little bit intimidating to someone not used to computer technology. But the manufacturers have made auto-steer very user-friendly so anybody can learn how to use it very quickly,” he added.

Vellidis says overall, auto-steer systems are very reliable, but like all technical equipment glitches can happen.

“Now, if it starts developing problems, you’re pretty much stuck and will need to rely on tech support to resolve your problem unless you’re a techy-kind of person.”

Auto-steer systems cost between $22,000 and $25,000. Based on his research, Vellidis says producers who farm at least 200 acres of peanuts using auto-steer can pay for the system in one year with just the extra yield they gain on peanuts.

“Auto-steer systems also provide additional economic gains whenever they are used for other farm operations and those gains also add up,” Vellidis said.

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