Ergonomics in your tractor – Making the job easier with GPS

As Published in ‘Grower’ Magazine May 2010.

James Powrie and Dan Bloomer, LandWISE Inc.

“I don’t care what it cost! He’s not such a grumpy b*&&er when he comes in off the tractor.” So said the farmer’s wife.  The interviewer had asked, “What rate of return are you getting on your investment in GPS guidance?”

Our experience is that many farmers respond in non-financial terms, preferring instead to explain why they “would never go back!” They are able to work longer and feel better at the end of each day, and they know they do better jobs than they can without it. What value should you put on a fresher mind, less silly mistakes, ability to work longer hours during high pressure periods?

There’s a story of a contractor entering the busiest part of the planting season. He lost his night shift driver and ending up planting for 100 hours at a stretch.  “I don’t recommend it but there’s no way it would have happened without GPS. 24 hours would have cooked me,” he said.

Most farmers adopt GPS because it saves on “soil, oil and toil”. And it is true that precision agriculture tools such as tractor guidance can reduce costs in the paddock; saving time, fuel and agrichemicals too.  But a message we keep hearing, is that the in the cab benefits were under-estimated, and a key reason to add more GPS units on other tractors.

It’s about Ergonomics – the study of the ‘fit’ between people and their tools and environments.  It is one of the things that owners and operators of self steering tractors love.   The bottom line is that GPS makes things more comfortable for the operator, and leaves them free to concentrate on the actual task being done.  Less stress in the cab equals less fatigue, because driving straight is handled by the gear.  This allows drivers to monitor the implement, the job it is doing and any adjustments required.

“The important work happens behind the tractor. That is where the money is made and lost,” says John Evans who grows process peas, specialist seed and a range of arable crops in Canterbury.  “Steering depends on looking out the front, but you can’t look out front and back at the same time. After trying GPS you realise how you can’t do the job as well without it,” he says.  “And my ‘cell phone wiggle’ is gone; when I answer the phone, the tractor stays on its bullet straight path.

Donovan Keen was furrow dyking a carrot crop at Lawson’s Organic farms when James caught up with him.  They watched the implement for five minutes without having to look out the front of the tractor.  “Especially with precision weeding; without GPS, one look back and we take the crop out,” said Donovan.

It is not just the owner-drivers that benefit. As employers, farmers are noting additional benefits. Randal Hanrahan grows process sweetcorn, potatoes and arable crops, farms livestock and operates an Agricultural contracting business in Ashburton.  With a larger operation to manage, Randal found driver training and hiring to be a major headache.  “Everything is so much easier with GPS,” he says.  “Driving very straight is a skill that is not often found.  This technology allows even a new driver to steer straighter than an old hand – every time” says Randal.

Because the tractor is steered by GPS the real work can be monitored and the office work can happen in the cab too.  Randal takes his phone and laptop up the ladder and runs his contracting business from the cab.  “It saves me time at night”, he says. “When I get inside, I can spend time with my family.”

The LandWISE website contains information on current members, articles on precision agriculture and many resources and tools.  It is also a place to comment, chat and ask questions about where to go to learn more.

LandWISE membership puts you in touch with other innovative growers, industry folks and technologists, join at

Visit the website to learn more, or contact James direct on 06 6504531 or 0272 757757.

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