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Podcast Ep. 126: AutoTrac Turn Automation

10 Sep 2020  •  Tony Kramer

On the latest episode of the Agriculture Technology Podcast, Precision Ag Supervisor Terry Lacher joins Host Tony Kramer to talk AutoTracTM Turn Automation (or ATTA for short).

ATTA gives operators automated control of steering, machine speed, and implement functions during end-of-pass turns and automatically completes turns and manages the tractor using field and headland boundaries as the references point.

Tune in to learn more about this technology from John Deere, and where ATTA proves to be the most useful for today’s farmers.


Each month, we share the latest in agriculture technology. Don’t miss an episode by subscribing to our podcast on iTunesSoundCloud, or anywhere you listen to podcasts.

Have a story idea or a precision ag topic we should highlight? Connect with us on social media:  Instagram | Facebook | YouTube |  Twitter and connect with podcast host, Tony Kramer on Twitter at: @RDOTonyK.


Catch the full transcript of Episode 126 here:

Tony Kramer: Welcome back to another episode of the podcast. This is episode number 126. Today, we are going to be talking about AutoTrac Turn Automation. Before we dive into the show, please take a moment to subscribe to this podcast, if you haven't already. You can subscribe to the show on the many different podcast apps that we're streaming this out to such as Apple's podcast app, we have it on Stitcher, Overcast, SoundCloud, as well as many others. While you're out there, drop us a review. We'd love to hear what you think about the show.

Lastly, make sure to follow RDO Equipment Company on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and catch all of our latest videos on YouTube. You can also follow me on twitter @RDOtonyk. Now with that, let's get back to the show.

I am very excited to welcome Terry Lacher to the show. He is a product specialist supervisor with RDO Equipment company. Thanks for joining us on the show today, Terry. To get started, let's hear a little bit more about you and your background and how you got involved in the industry.

Terry Locker: Will do Tony. Thanks again for having me on the show. It's great to be here. Again, my name, Terry Lacher, from Northeast South Dakota, is where I was born and raised on a farm. One of 12 in the family, the fourth oldest. I loved the agriculture, I wanted to stay with the agriculture, so at the end of the day, I end up going to Lake Area Technical College in Watertown in South Dakota and got a degree in diesel technology.

Upon graduation then I came to the RDO store in Aberdeen, and from there things took off. I've been with the company about 38 years. I've been through the service side of things, the part side of things, in the last several years, I've been in the technology department.

Tony Kramer: Awesome. Good long-standing career here with RDO Equipment Company started out in the diesel tech path and found your way to the technology realm. It's always fun listening to people's stories and learning how they got here. Let's dive into the show, Terry. AutoTrac Turn Automation. I know it could be a mouthful. A lot of people may refer to it as ATTA, a lot of different ways to talk about AutoTrac Turn Automation. Getting started, what is AutoTrac Turn Automation?

Terry Locker: AutoTrac Turn Automation is basically a software program we can use on our Gen 4 displays. With that program once activated, will let most of our late model equipment turn on the headlands basically hands-free. What we've had to do in the past, is use several buttons, drop the mechanical front, do different things that an experienced operator could do fairly well, but a novice operator sometimes could struggle. Ideas to get a consistent headland in each and every pass, with AutoTurn Automation, we are now able to achieve that.

Tony Kramer: This is essentially autonomous farming, automated farming in a sense.

Terry Locker: It really is. You set things up in advance, and then once things take over, you're sitting there just monitoring things. It's a really neat program.

Tony Kramer: You talked about or you mentioned our Gen 4 machines or our Gen 4 tractors. For those of you unfamiliar with that, you go back to 2014 when the final Tier 4 engines came out, those models came with a new display on the command arm, correct?

Terry Locker: Yes.

Tony Kramer: That the Gen 4 that you're talking about. Is that brand new to the Gen 4? Has this technology been around? When did this all come about to be able to automatically turn on the headlands?

Terry Locker: Several years ago, we had what we call a Gen 3 display, or a Gen 2 or 2600 or 2630, and that was able to do the same sort of things but a little more difficult to set up. We do have a few customers that are running that program. They really liked the program. It automates it for them. They are so much easier, it seems to me like. They've had it and they won't let go of it. Now we've just got another version of it that's really tweaked, I would say, from the original program, and much easier to set up and operate.

Tony Kramer: That program you're referring to is iTEC Pro, correct?

Terry Locker: Correct. iTEC, you could set iTEC up in the past, but now iTEC Pro was basically doing it all automatically. We take that to the next level, which is ATTA automation, as you mentioned earlier.

Tony Kramer: Got you. With AutoTrac Turn Automation, what can it be put on or how can it be used-- In what machines can it be used, I should say?

Terry Locker: What we see a lot down our area right now is the 6R, 7R, 8R, 9R tractors. They're really made for that program. Everything's conducive to make it work electronically through our system. It's pretty seamless there. We can go back a few years older than that with some retrofit stuff, but for the most part, in the last probably three or four years is where it's really come on board and it's just seamless. A simple activation on your display and a little bit of a training lesson and you're set to go.

Tony Kramer: You mentioned an activation on the display. Do the tractors come with everything needed, or is it just that activation that you have to add, or are these components that need to be added in order to make this happen?

Terry Locker: For the most part, any tractor we've built, Deere's built in that lineup in the last several years, AutoTracs come on the tractor. Then your display, you have an option of having AutoTrac on it or a Premium 3 activation, or you can upgrade to the Automation 4.0, which gives you automation for AutoTrac Turn Automation.

Tony Kramer: The Automation activation is really what's needed in order to make everything happen, correct?

Terry Locker: Correct. That's our top of the line activation to make everything automatically happen on its own. Correct.

Tony Kramer: When you say the top of the line activation with automation, that also gets you your section control and all of those type of activations as well, correct?

Terry Locker: Correct. Yes. Premium 3.0 has some of this stuff. Premium 4.0 gets you everything you need.

Tony Kramer: Got you. I sit here and I think about, the autonomous side of this. Everybody pictures, autonomous farming, and the self-driving tractors and whatnot, but this really is autonomous farming to the level of today, where we're at today. The question I have for you, Terry, is something like AutoTrac Turn Automation, what applications is this useful? Where do you see customers using it or where could potential customers use an application like this?

Terry Locker: We've seen in our area, probably and across the country, is really in our planters. We believe in straight rows, 20, 22 or 30 inch rows. You want that true headland to come in and out. Spacing is a big thing anymore. When you can go out there and plant that headland and then at every headland, turn that planter on and off, turn your traction control on and off, shift gears on and off so you get precise seed placement on a particular headland or a particular row. At the end of the day, it comes down to just added efficiency.

Cost savings, you say basically wear and tear but not working the ground a couple different times where you don't need to. At the end of the day, you can work more hours in the cab just by having the tractor do its own thing, make its own turns, and you simply monitoring it, rather than pulling switches and pushing buttons.

Tony Kramer: You said it, Terry, as you were talking about ways and uses that a farmer or an operation could utilize this is, you said the word efficiency. Really, to me, that's what it comes down to, because this program, you're making the exact same turn at the exact same timing every time you turn around, correct?

Terry Locker: Correct. A lot of people would say, "Well, I can do that on a square piece of land." There's a lot of pieces of land anymore that have arcs or angles in them. AutoTrac Turn Automation will figure that angle or that arc out, so you don't have to figure out when to lift and when to set down. This program will do it for you. That's where we gained quite a bit of efficiency.

Tony Kramer: Now with a program like this, we talk about autonomy and no operator needed type situation. I would imagine with AutoTrac Turn Automation, there's some embedded safety features I would imagine, like boundaries or something like that. How does that all work as far as making sure that we're still safe while we're farming with autonomous machines?

Terry Locker: The program early will require some boundary. Where do you make the boundary? When you get to the actual field or you import a boundary from a previous past or a previous year. Once you have that boundary set, then you will make an interior boundary about twice the distance of the tool. Your tool or tractor never goes outside of that exterior perimeter boundary. That way it keeps everybody safe, it keeps all the equipment inside the fence lines, the highline poles. It's just a great way to do it. The latest software released lets us move those boundaries side to side and top to bottom, which is really a nice feature.

One in the field, you might only need 120 foot boundary, and the next thing there might be a waterway that's close, you maybe want to stretch it out to 160 feet. Very easy to operate, very easy to control your boundaries when it comes down to the boundary side of things.

Tony Kramer: Now the other piece of safety, of course, this is not a program that we hit the Go button and jump out of the cab, is it? We're still in the cab monitoring whatever we're doing behind us, things like that. There's still an operator presence, correct?

Terry Locker: There is. A little bit about the system itself, the iTECs we talked about earlier, you had to make all the machine moves and adjustments when you got to the headland. You essentially train the tractor to do it entering and exiting the headland. With AutoTrac Turn Automation, you're doing all that in advance. You make your settings entering and exiting before you ever move the tractor. It's a nice safety feature there.

The other thing is, when you do get to the headland, you're going to get a warning that you're going to turn left or turn right. It'll show you on the map which way it's going to turn. If that's not the direction you want to turn, you simply push a button on the display, the tractor will make the opposite turn. That's a nice feature. Another nice feature is skip pass. If you have a very narrow implement, you can certainly set up for skip pass and then fill in. Every time you go around, it'll fill in if you have your pass.

Tony Kramer: I was actually going to ask that question about doing a skip pass scenario. I know there are some guys out there that like to do a skip pass scenario and tillage. Maybe they have a narrow, high speed, maybe they're running a John Deere 2680H High-Performance Disc, that's a little more narrow. Guys do you like doing that skip pass scenario. Cool to hear that you can do that. Also, you can change your turning directions. AutoTrac Turn Automation, it's been around, or it's capable with the Gen 4 machines. Been around for a little while. We've been using it a little bit.

You guys down in South Dakota, it's maybe becoming a little more popular. Do you have any more success stories or a success story that you'd like to share with us that maybe it was a conversation with a customer that opened his eyes or maybe it's a customer that's actually using it out there in the field?

Terry Locker: Yes, we do have a customer southwest of the store a couple of years ago. He inquired on it. Further, from our dreams, we didn't think he would ever want something like that in his operation. We went down there, and we demonstrated it to him. By the time we left that day, we had to activate the system for it, he was absolutely sold on it. What he has seen was, he could put one of two operators he had in that cab because they were on 24/7 in the spring. They could set that up and have them operators do that by a touch of a button.

To him, it was peace of mind laying in bed at night trying to go to sleep that his tractor is out there working just fine and get the most efficiency out of it. The operator was really comfortable using the system, not having to worry about going outside a boundary or hitting a Highline pole. It's peace of mind.

Tony Kramer: Absolutely. That's a great success story. It goes to show some of these technologies like this. We just need to see them operate on the farm or see them operate with the equipment that the farmers have out there, and you never know, you might walk off that farm selling one of these systems or automation activation or whatever it may be. Now, if someone is interested in learning more about AutoTrac Turn Automation, Terry, where can they go? Who can they talk to?

Terry Locker: The first step I would say today if you're listening to this podcast, I would definitely reach out to any RDO dealer. What we can actually do is take you through some short videos, show you where to find the videos. Deere's got some really very nice websites, they'll show it. The next step would be to see what you need, for us to come out and do a demo with you. Now we have a 30-day demo activations for the Gen 4. Deere will give those up. You got 30 days to try the product before you purchase it.

If it works for you, great, if it's nothing you really like, you've tried it, maybe tell your friends and neighbors about it, they may have some interest. At the end of the day, a lot of resources out there, a lot of YouTube videos. Again, go to your John Deere RDO dealer. We have brochures and pamphlets on it. Talk to a product specialist or an account manager in any of the stores, and they'll lead you to the right direction.

Tony Kramer: I just want to thank you, Terry, for taking the time today to sit down and talk to me a little bit about AutoTrac Turn Automation and some of the uses behind it and some of the efficiencies behind it as well. Thanks again for doing this.

Terry Locker: Thank you, Tony. Thanks for having me on the show. Appreciate it.


Tony Kramer: Visit\podcast to listen to new episodes and catch up on any that you have missed. You can also listen and subscribe to our podcasts on any device or streaming service.

Tony Kramer

Tony Kramer is the Product Manager of Planting Technology and a Certified Crop Advisor at RDO Equipment Co. He is also the host of the Agriculture Technology podcast. If you have any questions for Tony or would like to be a guest on the podcast, you can find him on X at @RDOTonyK.

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