Camera controls cultivator between rows

The camera was designed and manufactured by Claas as a guiding device for its forage harvesters and combines. It is capable of keeping the cultivator on track, even in situations like this that a human would find nearly impossible. Prices on the Row-Guard camera and computer range from $29,000 to $35,000. Photo: Scholten photo

By Ron Lyseng
OrganicBiz staff

Inter-row cultivation is no longer the exclusive domain of row croppers and organic farmers.

The practice has also become a new option for producers with herbicide resistance in broad-acre crops such as wheat and canola.

Machinery operators who have struggled to manually keep their cultivator between rows and out of trouble are probably not happy with the prospect of more inter-row cultivation.

On the other hand, a few producers say they are nearing the point where their backs are up against a wall because of herbicide-resistant weeds.

In extreme cases, it’s become a choice between trying to fight weeds without chemicals or giving up the land altogether.

Inter-row cultivation looks like the most viable alternative in many of these situations, said Jared Scholten, an Einbock Row-Guard specialist with Frontlink in Delhi, Ont.

The Austrian-built Row-Guard uses a sensitive camera mounted to a vertical pole on the cultivator frame. The adjustable camera is trained on the gap between the crop rows, which can range from row spacings of 5.9 to 48 inches.

The Row-Guard camera allows you to go into a crop that’s only an inch or two off the ground, at that very important growth stage. – Jared Scholten

The adjustable photo frame spans the distance from the crop row on the left to the crop row on the right. Images coming into the Row-Guard camera lens instantly tell if the cultivator starts to veer left or right.

The camera sends a warning along with the precise details to the computer, which, in turn, sends corrective signals to the hydraulic cylinders so they can make fine steering adjustments to the cultivator’s hitch.

The computer knows enough to not over-correct when transmitting steering corrections.

“Before, inter-row cultivating was only performed in really wide row spacings like 20 or 30 inches,” said Scholten.

He said the camera allows producers to cultivate between extremely tight row spacings by keeping the cultivator tool within one inch of the standing crop.

“Most air drills in Western Canada now are manufactured on 10-inch, 12-inch and up to 15-inch row spacings. That’s ideal for inter-row cultivation,” he said.

“Some farmers use mechanical inter-row guidance systems that depend on feelers. But these systems need a hefty, well established crop with enough bulk so the feelers can sense where the row is.

“The problem is you can’t go into a young crop or a crop that remains small, even when it’s mature. Early in the growing season is often when you need to get in there to take care of weeds. The Row-Guard camera allows you to go into a crop that’s only an inch or two off the ground, at that very important growth stage.”

Scholten said the high-end camera and computer are Claas items, gleaned from its forage equipment and combine heads.

Einbock has written its own software so that the images in the camera can be used to control the hydraulic side-shift system. The farmer can fit his cultivator with a variety of different tools, but it’s the software that prevents the tool from touching the crop.

“It used to be that inter-row cultivation could only be handled by the most experienced operator on the farm. If anyone else tried, there could be serious economic losses. Now, with camera guidance, anyone can drive once they’ve been trained. It’s easy,” he said.

“Einbock has a lighting package so the camera works in the dark. You can cultivate all night if you want. There’s new research from Germany showing significant benefits of cultivating weeds at night rather than in sunlight.”

Frontlink is importing a 52-row cultivator on 10 inch row spacing for conventional growers with a lot of acres to cover.

The Row-Guard camera, computer and hydraulics can cope with ground speeds up to 25 km/h, although Scholten doesn’t recommend running that fast.

“The 52-row unit has an individual section of parallelogram for each row. When you’re going through a field and you have a changing terrain, there’s a wheel and a (parallelogram) section per row, so everything is doing its own thing in the row,” he said.

“We can go wider than 52 rows, but that would be a custom design. A wider machine requires stronger hydraulics and all the components need to be beefed up.”

The 52-row cultivator with the Row-Guard camera guidance system has a list price of about $120,000.

The Row-Guard system by itself, when not mounted on a cultivator, has a price range of $29,000 to $35,000.

“It’s another example of how European agricultural technology is being adopted by western Canadian farmers, especially in weed control,” Scholten said.

For more information, contact Scholten at 519-582-3200.