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Bill Menkveld, Greentronics

The Nuts and Bolts of Yield Monitoring Technology

Given how important and detailed the data is they provide, you wouldn’t be the first person to assume that potato yield monitors must be confusingly complicated and inaccessibly high-tech. The reality is just the opposite. Root crop yield monitors consist of very few components. With a little patience and some basic wrenching skills, a complete system is quite easy to set-up and calibrate in surprisingly little time. But before you race out, full of new confidence, to get started with yield monitoring, commit one vital rule of thumb to memory: your yield monitoring will only be as good as your calibration.

Put simply: garbage in, garbage out. If you don’t do a careful and accurate job of set-up and calibration, your yield monitor will produce inaccurate results. Thankfully, getting your calibration right is straight forward, so long as you learn a basic understanding of the monitor components and follow a few step-by-step instructions.

A potato yield monitor consists of just four major components: two to four load cells, a shaft sensor, a junction box, and an in-cab control monitor.

Load cells (strain gauges) are small, easy to mount pressure sensors that mount on a harvester’s conveyor frame and support a section of the belt. When potatoes pass over this section, the load cells convert that pressure into an electrical signal. This data is then combined with conveyor speed data generated by the shaft sensor to produce and record precise second-to-second as well as accumulated weight measurements.

Producers who operate on hilly terrain or who load into trucks that differ in height may want to add an optional tilt sensor to their yield monitoring set-up in order to compensate for changing conveyor angle.

The load cells, shaft sensor and tilt sensor (if applicable) are connected via cables to a junction box (interface) on the harvester and then to a monitor inside the cab. The monitor collects the data and combines it with geographic data from the harvester’s existing GPS system allowing growers to create highly detailed yield maps.

And that’s it: all told, the technology is effective, transparent, and very user-friendly.

Before installing yield monitor components on your harvester, take time to read your operators manual so you clearly understand the steps to success. Though set-up is not difficult, accuracy and care are key, particularly when installing load cells.

Concerned your installation might not be quite right? Make sure to use the on-board test menus. These will help you analyze each component to ensure the monitor is working the way it should. In fact, working systematically through the calibration tools should be a pre-harvest step for every producer. Taking the time to check load cell output, shaft sensor reading and span calibration when you first start using your system and then again when you begin each new harvest season can save enormous disappointment and frustration in the long run. In addition, take two minutes and run a zero tare calibration at least daily, and every time field conditions change.

Yield monitoring technology offers incredible potential for a greater understanding of soil and crop characteristics and requirements. Some growers view their yield maps as their annual report cards. So long as a grower takes the time to figure out how the components work together, yield monitors need not be overwhelming or inaccessible. And help is always available through any authorized dealer or through the equipment manufacturer.

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