Safe and precise: The benefits of RTK boundary collection

Posted September 21, 2023

Learn more about the technology keeping farm machinery operators safe while enabling growers to have access to more precise recommendations.

Boundaries play a significant role in agriculture. Geospatial boundaries can save applicators from contacting known hazards such as power poles, wellheads or wash outs. This practice also reduces the potential for off-target applications while creating efficiency for our operators.

Nutrien Ag Solutions’ Agronomy and Environmental Sciences team has begun using Real Time Kinematic (RTK) to capture the geospatial boundaries of our Innovation Farm in Champaign, Illinois, and grower fields in the surrounding Cornbelt region.

RTK works similarly to a Global Positioning System (GPS) that you would use on a smartphone. However, RTK represents geospatial data down to a repeatable sub-inch accuracy, whereas standard GPS is typically accurate within two to four meters. This technology will ensure the use of these boundaries, for each operation year after year.

When capturing RTK boundaries, the team, led by Ryon Appel, Senior Precision Agronomy Lead for the Eastern Corn Belt, uses Gator Utility Transportation Vehicles (UTV) to collect external boundaries first by driving along the outer edges of a field. From there, they move to interior boundaries – obstacles such as waterways, terraces, headlands, and anything that is not included in the tillable land.

Once the exterior and interior boundaries have been collected, the data is loaded into the John Deere Operations Center and can then be sent to Nutrien Ag Solutions precision ag platform, Echelon, so that the boundaries can be loaded into farm machinery, used for field recommendations, and stored for future reference.

Why is this technology important?

Using RTK boundaries has many benefits. Some of the benefits are making field applications more efficient and reducing operator fatigue for our custom applicators. Having access to the geospatial data allows operators to concentrate on in-cab requirements for accurate in-field applications.

When RTK boundaries are uploaded into the machines display, it unlocks the ability to use ExactApply, an optional feature on John Deere’s Sprayers that allows individual nozzle control to precisely turn on and off solution, significantly reduces overlap.  This allows the machinery to pass over bounded areas without applying product. Since the operators do not have to navigate around non-tillable areas, this also results in the machinery using less fuel.

“Currently, operators must drive around the perimeter of each field, along with any waterways or terraces to collect guidance used to complete each pass,” says Ryon. “Using captured RTK boundaries with ExactApply, allows the operator to use boundary track, which safely guides the operator around the field perimeter. They can then use the collected guidance to complete each pass in the field, confidently knowing the solution will shut off and resume as they pass through waterways. This makes each field much easier to spray and saves so much time.”

The Exact Apply technology also helps with product use efficiency. Using the field guidelines reduces the risk of overlapping applications on the field, which can happen without a consistent set of boundaries.

A major benefit to using RTK boundaries is that it helps keep machine operators safe. During the boundary collection, objects like powerlines are taken into account, which helps reduce the risk of powerline touches through visual cues available to the driver that flag hazards.

“Ultimately, safety has been front of mind during the adoption of this technology,” says Thaddeus Bates, Senior Manager of Nutrien Ag Solutions’ Innovation Farm Network. “Powerline touches are a common risk during operations season and are extremely dangerous. Anything we can do to prevent our operators from these touches when using sprayers is absolutely essential.”

For growers, one of the benefits of doing RTK boundary collection with their Nutrien Ag Solutions crop consultant is that they will have access to all the boundaries collected and can upload the data into their machinery through the John Deere Operation’s Center. This allows growers to use the field boundaries as a guide during planting season.

The data from the Operations Center can be uploaded to Echelon which allows crop consultants to give more precise field recommendations. From the guidelines and knowledge of the field being worked on, crop consultants will be able to put together the most efficient field plan for the grower with the exact amount of product that will need to be used on the land.

“Having these boundaries allows us to use this technology which builds stronger relationships with our grower by giving them confidence that we are making the right application and doing the best job possible,” says Ryon.

Goals for future

Currently, RTK boundary collection has primarily occurred in the Cornbelt. However, Ryon and Thaddeus’ teams are working to standardize boundary collection throughout Nutrien Ag Solutions footprint in North America.

They plan to bring all the Gator UTV’s to the Innovation Farm in Champaign, IL for safety training. During the training, the team will demonstrate how to use the Gators, show future users what to do with the boundaries once they are inputted into the system center, as well as run though all the systems we use. The benefit to training at the Champaign Innovation Farm is that trials are done at the scale of farming, so employees will be trained in a real-life setting, just as they would encounter on a grower’s operation.

“Our goal is to have our operators trained and ready with equipment in their possession and ready to roll as soon as a harvest occurs in their area,” says Thaddeus. “It doesn’t make sense to have some of our locations capturing boundaries manually and others using RTK technology. To fully harness the benefits of RTK boundaries, we need to have true standardization.”

To learn more about Nutrien Ag Solutions’ Innovation Farms, check out a previous blog post that highlights the farm network and the research that occurs on each farm.


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