On this episode of the Agriculture Technology Podcast, Erin Hightower, RDO Agronomist, joins host Tony Kramer, to discuss John Deere's new See & Spray Select - the first commercially available Deere machine factory-equipped with this advanced spraying technology.
The See & Spray Select can help minimize input costs and only spray weeds when they are detected. The advanced technology makes it possible for farmers to be more efficient with tank mixes.
RDO is currently beta-testing a sprayer in Erin's region, so she highlights her first-hand observations of the sprayer's technologies and capabilities.
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Catch the full transcript here:
Tony Kramer: Hi, I'm Tony Kramer with RDO Equipment Company. Thanks for tuning in to another episode of the Agriculture Technology Podcast.
Welcome back to another episode of the podcast. This is episode number 143 and today we are going to be talking about John Deere See & Spray Select.
I'm very excited to bring back Erin Hightower, who is an agronomist with RDO Equipment. Thanks for coming back on the show, Erin. We had you on about a year ago talking about some technologies that can be adopted onto the farm.
I'm really excited to talk about this topic today. This is another topic or another technology that can be adopted. Maybe not as easily as adopted as some of those other ones. Before we get started, Erin, why don't you just remind our listeners again where you come from, what your background is and how you got involved in the industry.
Erin Hightower: I am with RDO Equipment Company here in Washington and Oregon. I've been with RDO for four years. Before that I worked more on a resource management level of farm management. What I bring to the table is I love looking at the farm as a whole living organism instead of that individual. With that, it made this new technology of the See & Spray Select even more exciting for us when you talk about some of our farming ground that we have in Washington and Oregon.
We are dryland and irrigated land but our dry land tends to have a fallow year every other year. So we have every other year where we're sitting there and we're just allowing that ground to rest, recuperate, and that's where the spraying technology really comes into play, will be in that fallow ground year where you have a lot of ground that's not producing a lot of economic product.
Tony: Yes, it is definitely a unique situation out there in the Pacific Northwest, Washington, Oregon. Very different from here Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, kind of the region that I'm in. You guys have a lot of fallowed ground year after year. Us here, kind of Red River Valley, the upper Midwest, we don't. If we have fallowed ground, it's usually not a good thing. It's not being fallowed for good reasons, so very unique situation and that is where this sprayer, this new technology comes into play. Let's just dive into it. Erin. What is John Deere See &Spray Select?
Erin: See & Spray Select is a program that they just announced earlier this year in 2021 and we were lucky enough, our RDO Equipment Company, to get one of the beta testing models or some of the early testing models here. We have one of six machines. The machines are also being located in Australia, Kansas, and North and South Dakota. We are getting the opportunity to see this work firsthand, kind of get to work out some of the kinks and see some of the potential things that we'll have to talk about when we talk about this sprayer.
What the See &Spray Select is, from half the way the sprayer back, it looks like a completely normal sprayer. It still has that ExactApply nozzle that we've all become familiar with and has some of the ExactApply technology. What changes is that there is a camera system now pre-reading as the sprayer is going across the field and it's a pretty high-end product. It has a lot of processors on it. It's pretty electronically advanced. What's also advanced about it is that the cameras are one camera per, I believe, every three nozzles, while competitor spraying models, spot spraying models are usually five cameras or five nozzles per camera, so we're looking at a higher concentration of cameras. A lot of its competitors will emit lights, like a near-infrared light or there's a newer model that does these blue lights.
This is an actual camera. This is a real-time RGB camera, which allows it to kind of do a little bit more processing. I see it maybe growing into itself, sort of, as we go along with the technological advances. But as for now, it sees the color green and it sprays just as some of its competitors do. It is going to be an interesting piece of machinery to watch growing as we continue on.
Tony: You actually bring up a good point there, watching a piece of machinery grow. This is not a brand new sprayer by any means, but it is added technology on to the current models or the new, I should say, 22 sprayers with the 412R, the new labeling or new numbering, but this is technology added on to that sprayer, correct?
Erin: Exactly right. If you have See & Spray Select turned off, you're still able to do your pulse width modulating, and you're still able to do turn compensation and all the items we've been talking about in the last 5 or 10 years with the ExactApply coming out. The sprayer itself, I really say it's three sprayers in one. If you want to do a traditional broadcast spraying like every other day of the week, or like your old four series sprayers, you can do that by changing the settings. If you want to do pulse width modulating, which is something we've all become comfortable with in the last five years, you turn on the pulse width modulating.
Then on top of it now, if you want to do a select spraying where you're only selecting color variations of green, then you turn on the See & Spray. It's interesting because See & Spray works in a couple of different ways which I kind of highlighted it in my Twitter account last month. They have it where it spot sprays as it sees green, but they also have what's called A plus B mode, where you're putting a light broadcast using pulse width modulating in nozzle A of that turret, and in nozzle B, it's adding an extra punch when it sees more green. That's more useful in what we call burn down in fallow season. What will happen is this time of year in March, April, May, as you start greening up, we're going to run that A plus B over a fallow piece of ground as it has a large green up, we're going to kill that off.
Then we're going to come back through in May, June, July and put that spot spraying on and what happens with that is a couple fold. First, you're going to use less pesticide in that May, June, July, as you're doing just the See & Spray. You're going to save up to 77% of your pesticide usage, which is the number one cost issue when you're doing fallow. You're not making money, but you're putting money on the ground still. It's going to reduce that cost.
Also, it allows you to change your pesticides.
What happens is your agronomist is getting up on a soapbox every two years and saying you should change your mode of kill so that you don't have weed resistance or weed issues, but we can't afford this mode change because those other modes are expensive. Well, when you burn down once with your usual, I don't know, Roundup or whatever you want to use for that mode A, and then you go into the See & Spray, all of a sudden you can change to a different mode of action that's usually more expensive because you're going to be using less overall.
Tony: I really like how you put that there. It's kind of like three and the way that you explained it, it's almost even four sprayers in one. You explain the fact that this sprayer can still be used in a traditional just pressure type spraying, you can turn on the pulse width modulation, so taking advantage of the ExactApply system. Then you have the two See & Spray models that you had talked about, just spot spraying where it is, or the broadcast plus a spot spray to kind of give it that extra punch.
You actually kind of dove into the next question I was going to ask. What are the benefits of running a system like this? What is it? How is this system going to benefit the grower on that fallowed ground that you're not getting any revenue off of it, you're just putting money into it. How is this system going to help them in that situation?
Erin: It's funny you mentioned that four in one. I really had a thought the other day that it's a lot like the difference between grandpa's pocket knife and a Leatherman. Grandpa's pocket knife is still very usable, but when you got your first Leatherman you upped your game a little bit, so it is the Leatherman of spraying.
Tony: I like that.
Erin: The benefits and concepts are first off, again, you're using less pesticide when you don't need it. Not only are you reducing your operating costs, which all of us need to worry about, farming is a game of cents, but also the environmental aspects of that. We are living in a time where people are watching over the fence and seeing how much you're spraying and are concerned about that.
But also we have a weed suppression issue, and it's rearing its head more and more every year that we're getting pesticide resistant weeds. This is the money and cents and environmental aspect of changing your mode, only spraying what you have to, getting ourselves in a situation where we are controlling 100% of those weeds and we're not having that weed pesticide resistance that it's becoming more and more an issue every day, plus greater control. You're having greater control of what you're doing out there, instead of having to worry about, should I spray this field or not because are the weed pressures bad enough or not in this fallow ground? Do I need to wait an extra week?
If I wait an extra week, will it be too hot and the weeds will have already started [unintelligible 00:11:43] You're starting to really think about that more of a larger picture of, it doesn't matter if it's cost effective or not because I'm only going to be using what I absolutely need. The only flat expense that is being used now will be the running of the engine, that fuel usage and [unintelligible 00:12:04] usage and the time of the person driving across the field, and taking out that variable rate of how much pesticide am I using.
Tony: Those are all very good points and something that needs to be taken into effect when we talk about crop protection and you talk about the weed resistance and everything that we're dealing with. Before I dive into the last question here, I do want to ask you, Erin, with everything, the way the camera system works and the benefits and everything, and the fact that it is to be used on fallowed ground, this technology is not going to be for every farm out there, correct?
Erin: Definitely not at the moment. In fact Deere has been very vocal that it is only to be used in these fallow situations. There's a reason why only five machines went out and they went out to very specific demographics of the Pacific Northwest, that Alberta Canada region, Kansas, Australia, because we're the ones who do this fallow management. That is because that system has, you know, with every risk there's a reward and every reward there's a risk.
We have a reward at this brand new See & Spray Select program. The problem with the See-- I guess not problem, but the limitations of the See & Spray is you're not doing it in pulse width modulating. That pulse width modulating has to be turned off for the See & Spray to work, so you're kind of going back to broadcast spraying. It does have its risks that I think that Deere is making sure that we don't get in over our heads. I wouldn't be surprised if that changes over the next few years as technology starts catching up. But for now it's just fallow ground because we need to make sure that we don't accidentally take out a crop.
Tony: That said, both you and I know that with the advancements in technology and where the ag industry is going, this technology, this sprayer right now or this setup, really meant for that fallowed ground type of application. But that's not to be said that sometime in the future, there may be more technology added to it or different technologies that come out. I'm really excited to see where this is going to go.
We look back to the days of the cabless spray coops and how crop protection was done with gallons and gallons of chemistry. Now we're using micro rates and cameras and all this other stuff. It's really cool to see all of this stuff adapt and advance with the more and more technology that's out there.
Erin: There's other limitations at the moment too, which I see maybe being relaxed. First off, you can only use it during full day time so you have to shut it off 30 minutes before sunset and you can't turn it on until 30 minutes after sunrise. You have to be smack dab in the middle of that day and it also can only be used at 12 miles per hour or below, so it took all that speed that we were able to use with the pulse width modulating back down because it's not pulse width modulating and because we don't want to overdrive those cameras. There's a lot of limitations at the moment, but for the environment that we farm up here with the fallow ground, these restrictions really aren't that restrictive for us.
We typically don't spray a ton at night in the Pacific Northwest anyway, and also with the hills and the terrain that we have, we're not running that fast in many cases anyway, so those restrictions were not important to us in the Pacific Northwest and the value that it brings. But it could be problematic for other people who wanted to try to get creative and use this outside of the fallow environment.
Tony: Bringing up those limitations, that actually leads right into my last question. There's of course, some limitations that you just explained as far as the application goes. Are there any compatibility limitations? Is it only compatible with specific options on these sprayers that are out there?
Erin: They're quite a few, in my opinion of first and foremost, right now there's no retrofitting kits. Even if you just bought an R series sprayer in the last year and you want to retrofit it back, it's not retrofittable at the moment. You still do have to have the ExactApply system put on, and that, as compared to its competitors is a restriction that it does need to have the ExactApply system. The reason they're doing that is because they need the A,B, A plus B system that the ExactApply has become very known for. It also is only limited to the 90 foot, 100 foot and then the 120 foot booms, no bigger, no smaller. Right now that pretty much is also limited to the metal frames. There's no putting it on the carbon fiber at the moment.
Nozzling. If I had one thing that was perplexing for me as I was using this in the field in the last month, it's been trying to figure out the nozzling. It's not uncommon for us in farming to have our two or three go-to nozzles. We use those two or three nozzles and life is great and we dance happily at the end of the day. Because of the basically four different modes that this can be used in and the different requirements of the different chemistries, nozzling is going to become more important than ever.
You're going to need to talk with your professional about what type of nozzles is best, or do a lot of homework. Used to be, even up to last year, you want to choose a nozzle, you go to the published chart and you can look it up and life is good and you know pretty well what you're getting yourself into. With the See & Spray, there has been some changes in how nozzling works, that we're still trying to work out how our recommendations are going to look. Most notably the See & Spray has a lot of variation in pressure.
As all of us know, when you select nozzles, you select it based off the pressure you're going to run. That pressure is, just as we're learning the machine, at this point, it fluctuates a lot. I could see that in a year from now, I'll be eating my hat and I'll be eating these words that will have figured out how that pressure is more consistent than we think it is, but at the moment, playing with it for the first month, the pressure has been something that is going to play a lot into how you're going choose your nozzling system. It may mean that you have to invest more in nozzles than you probably used to in traditional models or sprayers.
Tony: Those are all very good things to bring up, especially the nozzles being an important factor of that. In any an sort of an application situation, you want to make sure that you have the right nozzles selected. Now, getting the opportunity to run and see the sprayer out in the field, Erin, is there any sort of a neat thing you'd like to share with us? I know that we don't really have a success story at this point, but what's a neat piece of information you could share with us about this sprayer that you really enjoyed.
Erin: I had the benefit of coming in with a little bit of experience on See & Spraying models. We, in the Northwest, are dealers for the Weedeat technology and previously, in previous employment opportunities, I dealt with the WeedSeeker, which was very old school, 15 years ago versions of this technology. It's interesting to see how much the premise has changed. At first glance, when you've spent a lot of time around this and you hear what See & Spray is, you're like, "Come on, that's been on the market for years." But there's still a lot of advancements to it. First, the level of sensitivity at which it sprays, it's much different than the previous pieces I've worked with. The other thing is when I used to work with the WeedSeeker technology 15 years ago, we had to calibrate that sprayer four, six times a day, maybe eight times a day, and this is calibrated once a season.
That alone, the amount of time you're saving trying to get the piece calibrated, is spectacular. The other piece that I think is interesting is when I worked with that older technology. Of course I'm comparing iPhone 1 to iPhone 20 as a comparable example, but back with the WeedSeeker when we had a dusty environment, which the Pacific Northwest is a incredibly dusty environment, when we got dust on that lens or that camera, it was done. That sensor was not going to read. It was not going to spray. It thought it saw brown, brown and brown. What I really like about the See & Spray Select is you have settings in there where you can say, "If you don't know if you're reading right or not, spray," or "If you don't know if you're reading right or not, don't spray." Which allows you a controllability so that if you're in this dusty environment- you know we're heading into it a world-class drought in certain regions of the Pacific Northwest this year,
We're incredibly dusty. Knowing that you're still going to get that spray coverage with this new technology because you can say, "Okay, spray, if you don't know," is an advancement in this technology that I thought was very interesting and very dynamic and allows us to work around the ever changing spraying environment, climatic changes that happen from year to year.
Tony: There, again, we talk about, it's neat hearing your background and your history coming in with some previous history of other manufacturers systems, similar to See & Spray Select. We talk about just the advancements in technology and how progressive agriculture is with these. Really cool to hear those stories. Now, if somebody wants to learn more about See & Spray Select, where can they go? Who can they talk to?
Erin: Obviously following John Deere, as they make their announcements both on their YouTube page, their social media is a great way to start. They're still kind of ironing out some of the wrinkles. Pre-ordering of the sprayer starts later this summer. They'll probably be coming out with announcements for that soon. Obviously spending some time with your RDO Equipment account manager, learning about that technology. Working with us, the agronomists of RDO, to figure out whether it's a good fit or not, because this is one of the first pieces of technology where the answer is it may not fit your operation and we need to have that conversation with you. Just visiting with your RDO Equipment Company or you can see us at rdoequipment.com.
Tony: I just want to thank you Erin, for taking the time to join me again on the podcast and talk about See & Spray Select. It's always fun learning about this new technology and it'll be fun to see the growing season go on as you guys get to work more with this technology out there in the Northwest. Thanks again for doing this.
Erin: Thank you.
Tony: Thanks again for tuning into another episode. If you have questions about the technology and products discussed, or have ideas about future episodes, please leave them in the comments below. You can also subscribe to RDOs YouTube channel and be in the know about each episode or tune in on any streaming service. Thanks again for listening.