GPS test: A choice between convenience or freedom

Future Farming took a seat behind 6 factory-fitted GPS guidance systems and put them to the test.

Yes, you can take a break from the steering wheel in all 6 tractors, as the GPS will make sure the passes are dead straight and joined up. We noticed some key differences, however: while one system offers outstanding convenience, another more complex system offers unlimited options.

2 screens
All brands feature a touchscreen control panel. Claas and Massey Ferguson (7700 series) are the only ones that needed to fit a second screen in the cabin, as the primary terminal is unable to work with GPS. Incidentally, Massey Ferguson has fitted the Datatronic 5 in its new 7700 models, which can work with GPS.

Optional second terminal
For the New Holland and John Deere models, it is possible to purchase an optional second terminal so that the tractor terminal remains visible while the driver works with the GPS system. A second 4600 display from John Deere costs an additional € 1,275. Valtra offers an optional second SmartTouch screen for € 1,800, but it can only be used with an ISOBUS or camera images.

Deutz-Fahr takes a different approach: the iMonitor is able to set up a wireless connection, which enables you to use a standard iPad or Android tablet as a second screen. The required app is free (search for Xtend from Topcon in your app store), but to make the Xtend function available in the iMonitor, you will need to purchase a one-off licence (€ 500).

New Holland: no specific menu for automatic driving systems
New Holland is the only 1 of the 6 brands to have no specific menu in the terminal for the automatic driving systems. This means that you need to search through the various tabs yourself to find the required settings. For example, you will need to find how to start or stop recording, search for the working width of the tool, and set the type of A-B line elsewhere.

Another option is to set up one of the customisable screens yourself so that you have all the functions you need for GPS guidance in one place. Or for convenience: ask the dealer to pre-set everything for you.

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New Holland is the only 1 of the 6 brands to have no specific menu in the terminal for the automatic driving systems. - Photo: John Christensen
Create a ‘task’
At the outset: before you set out an A-B line, you need to know that, with Claas, Deutz-Fahr and New Holland, you cannot set out an A-B line until you have created a ‘task’. In the case of New Holland, you need to select an owner or user name, a farm name, a field, and a tool. This can also be an existing ‘task’ that you reload. This is the case for Deutz-Fahr: if you do not create a new plot, you automatically set the new lines in the most recently opened plot.

Valtra ‘easy mode’
The ability to keep all of these details for inputting an A-B line comes in handy for those who systematically and accurately record all of their cultivation work. But those who just crank up the GPS for convenience when subsoiling, mowing or swathing will find it laborious. For precisely this reason, Valtra, for example, offers an ‘easy mode’, which gets you going with just a few key taps. Simply press the green ‘Go’ button on the SmartTouch. Set a working width and select straight or curved lines. Press ‘A’, select 10 metres rotary cultivation or tilling, press ‘B’, and then you can fold up the steering wheel until the next headland. The Massey Ferguson also offers this option.

John Deere
It is just as simple in the John Deere: press the ‘Quick Line’ icon below the terminal and edit a path of 15 metres. And there you have a straight A-B line. You then select the working width. These kinds of useful functions avoid having a computer full of separate ‘zzzz’ or ‘yyy’ lines and plot names.

Claas: only the working width missing
The Claas model also requires you to create a task first before letting you drive out on an A-B line. The good news is that the S10 terminal features a smart ‘favourites’ menu with frequently used functions, making functions easily accessible. The only trouble is that it will not let you adjust the working width here, requiring you to delve a little deeper into the menu structure to find that setting. To do this, you find the set of saved tools, select one and adjust it from there.

The solution to this is to measure all tools and store them in the terminal. If you take the time to do that, you will reap the benefits from that point onwards. The Claas system is generally user-friendly and efficient, and also offers 4 different types of A-B lines.

Valtra and Massey Ferguson go the extra mile
If we demand a little more in terms of functionality, we note that Valtra and Massey Ferguson go the extra mile in user-friendliness. That is where intuitive screens really come in handy: you can, in fact, configure the settings from a single menu screen, with icons that show the specific status of a function. Speaking of icons, this is where Deutz-Fahr’s iMonitor performs exceptionally well: you can find the different functions fairly quickly without thinking about it.

The flipside of the convenience offered by the AGCO sister brands Valtra and Massey Ferguson is that they are the least advanced of the 6 systems we tested. For example, you have to be satisfied with straight or curved A-B lines, or entering a specific angle from the A-point.

Create different types of A-B lines
Aficionados can have a field day configuring the John Deere, New Holland and Deutz-Fahr models. These tractors offer a whole world of settings to customise, and there is plenty for those who value precise settings. These brands allow you to create different types of A-B lines, for example.

You also have a range of options for changing position (moving lines) and monitoring position while you are working. Plus, with the New Holland model, you can even have different paths going in different directions, which the tractor can pick up and follow, and that is just one of the numerous options offered by this CNH tractor.

Select adaptive curves
Let’s take a look at the John Deere terminal. It allows you to select adaptive curves. For example: you can load straight lines, and adjust one line on that entire manuscript, enabling you to ride around an obstacle such as a telegraph pole or a tree.

Deutz-Fahr traffic control
Creating an adaptive curve like this is also possible in the Deutz-Fahr, though you will need to purchase an extension (one-off fee of € 1,350) called Traffic Control. In actual fact, you work with standard A-B lines, but when you take the wheel yourself and steer around a tree or a well, you can record that manoeuvre and save it between the straight A-B lines. Plus, you can adapt that line you have followed for different working widths.

Mark out field boundaries
All 6 automatic guidance systems are, of course, able to mark out field boundaries, but once again, some systems simply offer more options than others. For example, some are able to interrupt the drawing of boundaries while the tractor is in motion, or allow you to select only the right or left-hand side of the tool for marking, or specify the exact number of metres, and so on.

Great – so imagine you are setting the plot boundaries in the Deutz-Fahr iMonitor. You can set the width of the headland yourself and also choose whether to measure in metres or number of turns. You can also input how many metres away you want to be from the headland when the tractor alerts you with an audible beep, and the required zoom percentage on the map when it is time to turn. Oh, and did we mention that not only the New Holland but also the Deutz-Fahr allow you to display every number of each specific pass?

Entering obstacles
It is useful to highlight obstacles in a plot directly. All 6 systems allow you to do this, as well as distinguishing between ‘small’ and ‘large’ obstacles. A small obstacle could be a large stone or a water source, for example, while a large obstacle would be an uncultivated section of the plot, such as an area of wetland, a patch of woodland or an old barn.

The latter category is treated differently by each of the 6 brands, and we noticed in particular that there is considerable difference in the ease of entering these obstacles. With the John Deere, for example, you need to know where to find that function in the first place, or else you can spend a long while searching. It is not highlighted with large icons, unlike many other functions.

New Holland does not make it much easier either, partly due to the numerous advanced functions, and partly due to the sometimes confusing nature of the user interface.

Claas, Valtra and Massey Ferguson all allow you to mark an obstacle fairly quickly, however. In one terminal, you will simply see the obstacle on the established paths that run directly through it, while in other tractors, the paths will stop, meaning that you will hear a bleep when you arrive at the headland, for example.

Plot a narrower headland around obstacles
The Claas and John Deere models allow you to create a headland around the telegraph pole in question, but only with the same width as that which applies to the rest of the plot. In Deutz-Fahr, this feature is separate and you can plot a narrower headland around obstacles if necessary. Not forgetting that you can choose whether the lines are allowed to go through the obstacle or are interrupted by it, meaning you want to be alerted as you approach it.

Finally, you can also choose whether to allow the area around that telegraph pole to count towards the total surface area of the plot.

Significant price difference
The additional (gross) costs of the various factory-fitted GPS systems we tested range from € 7,020 (Massey Ferguson) to € 17,259 (on the John Deere). Our John Deere test model was the most comprehensively equipped, however, with full-option and 2 screens. Those who are willing can drive away in a 6R with SF1 signal and 4200 display for € 7,390.

What stood out in the user test was that while all 6 systems are great to work with, they differ primarily in terms of user-friendliness and the range of detailed functions. Which system you choose will therefore mainly depend on how you use the GPS system and how fanatical you are about drawing your own plots – and the tractor brand itself is irrelevant.

If you have many different drivers using your tractor, it may be useful to go for convenience, which will save you many phone calls and long explanations. If you have a fixed team of drivers, you should opt for an advanced system from the start and then take the time to draw all of your plots in detail.

Co-author: John Christensen

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