Precision agriculture technologies, which have dramatically changed production agriculture over the last decade or so, are now being introduced in the turf market, specifically in sprayers for golf course and turf maintenance. This market is benefitting from production ag technology and moving straight to individual nozzle control for chemical placement and comprehensive data gathering and analysis capabilities.

Experts say that golf and turf superintendents could immediately see chemical savings and better management practices as well as a return on investment in as little as 2 years. 

Raven Industries with Turflux; Toro with Topcon; and John Deere are among the first to market with precision sprayers. Product experts shared insights on their products, the technology and what it could mean for dealers. 

Adapting Technologies

Last fall, Raven Industries and Turflux announced an agreement to exclusively market Raven’s Slingshot RTK technology to golf courses in North America. 

“One of the things we feel is unique about our products is that they are adaptable to different markets. We’ve taken our products and are pushing more adoption of precision in the golf industry,” says Ryan Molitor, Raven marketing manager. 

Raven’s products incorporate RTK (real time kinematic) technology, which uses satellite navigation for developing application maps. RTK is a step forward from WAAS (wide area augmentation system) technology used in other systems.

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View “Joining the Precision Ag Revolution,” an editorial in the Spring issue of Rural Lifestyle Dealer for additional comments.

Turflux spray systems with Raven technology will be available for installation on new sprayers or as a retrofit to existing sprayers. “Dealers can go in and retrofit sprayers and earn back sales that they lost. They can build expertise and then when the customer replaces that sprayer, they’ll have built a relationship and proven they are experts with the technology,” says Tim Fitzgerald, Turflux president. 

The data resides on the machine or can be uploaded to a Slingshot account with Raven. Turflux recently worked with 8 Slingshot-equipped systems in the field and documented chemical savings of 20-23% using individual nozzle control to eliminate off-target and overlap spray. Even though savings can be proven, Molitor says there are some obstacles to adoption. “There is the perception that precision technology is expensive and complicated. There’s a big educational component to help potential users understand that it’s not expensive and it’s not complicated,” Molitor says. “For dealers, it’s not just about selling the product, but providing the support and training. You don’t want your customers to be frustrated.”

Meeting Demand

Toro and Topcon Positioning Group announced a partnership earlier this year to introduce their precision technology, the GeoLink system, which is expected to be available this summer on the Toro Multi Pro 5800 sprayer and later on other models.

“We asked our customers what they wanted and we quickly found that our sports field and turf managers were spraying differently than farmers. Topcon was willing to develop new software that would meet the needs of our customers without forcing them to make due with systems that were out there today,” says Jace Bertsch, Toro marketing manager of application products. 

Toro will offer two systems, WAAS and RTK. “We will offer both systems as not all customers will need the more accurate RTK to suit their needs. RTK comes with additional costs, including data plans and subscriptions. WAAS will require the users to define their target boundary each time they spray. An RTK system requires the operator to do this only one time.

“Another big difference for us is inclusion zones,” says Bertsch. For instance, an operator could define a green as an individual job or combine 18 greens into a single job, which eliminates redundant actions. Any time a nozzle would go over a defined area, it would turn on and wouldn’t turn on anywhere else.

The data is local to each machine and can be imported into a computer for analysis. “Reports that could be generated would include things like application rates, coverage maps, time of day and how long the job took,” Bertsch says. 

The systems would be added as a kit to new sprayers and those in the field. “We’re going to see how it’s received. If there’s enough demand to justify a new model, we’ll look at installing it directly in the factory.

“I think any customer interested in precision application would benefit. According to our research, if a customer can see a payback in 2-3 years, they are willing to make the investment,” Bertsch says. 

Proven Ag Components

John Deere showed off its prototype at this spring’s Golf Industry Show. The model is referred to as an “intelligent” sprayer and will be mounted on ProGator turf vehicles. 

“We showed the system with ag components currently used for seeding, spraying, harvesting and tilling. With over 15 years in the precision agriculture space, we can now bring that experience and innovation to meet the needs of the golf customer. At the heart of this, it is about how technology can enable customers to stay connected to their operation, their jobs — with new insight to drive increased productivity and revenue,” says Brooks Hastings, product manager for John Deere Golf. “Our concept sprayer is fully functional and we’re working to validate the performance and savings in the golf environment.”

For instance, Hastings says they want to make sure the signal is accurate, even under a canopy of trees.

John Deere offers similar data options as other products. “The data can be transmitted to John Deere’s data management tools. These tools are designed to help a customer create an environment that connects them to their data, allows for easier analysis and provides them with control to share it — including with their John Deere dealer,” he says. Hastings went on to highlight the importance the dealer plays in understanding these tools and how the system provides customers the ability to control access to their data and with whom they share it.

Seeing the Future 

Jason Killpack of Topcon says that besides chemical savings, the data gathering helps turf superintendents prove they are using chemicals correctly. “It’s a digital record of ownership all the way down to the last drop out of the nozzle,” he says.

There are some obstacles inherent to the technology in terms of errors from satellite signals. He refers to “selective availability” from satellites that are part of national security protocols. Reference stations help by providing something called differential correction, which helps eliminate the errors in the satellite signal. 

“The barrier to entry could be whether there’s a reference station source in their local area, within 30 miles of where the vehicle is operated,” Killpack says. “The power of RTK correction technology lies with the strength of the network that you are using. This is related to the different types of satellite signals being utilized and the density of coverage area of GNSS (global navigation satellite system) stations over the entire network. The Topcon TopNET Live network is global in size and is an excellent fit for Toro and its customers around the world. With new stations being added every week, the coverage area footprint continuously grows around the world. Ultimately, this contributes to the democratization of high accuracy real time measurement for different user types from all different sections of industry.”

What’s next in terms of precision technologies for the turf and other rural lifestyle applications? Killpack says machine-to-machine communication could be possible. For instance, an operator who may need chemicals could communicate with other vehicles to check chemical levels.