January 16, 2002 | By: Laura Skillman

Light bars in farm equipment can provide improved accuracy in chemical applications and seeding.

The technology uses global positioning systems to track a piece of equipment through the field with the light bar mounted in front of the driver to keep him on the proper path. If a farmer get out of alignment, the light bar lets him know so he can make the necessary adjustments.

Light bar use was one of the topics at the annual University of Kentucky Wheat Science winter conference which teamed university, government, private industry and farmers together for discussions on advancing technologies.

The meeting, held Jan. 9 at the Warren County office of the Cooperative Extension Service, provided farmers and crop consultants with a chance to catch up on the latest information and determine if it will fit into their enterprises.

Light bars can be beneficial in helping reduce overlaps and skips in fields, said Tim Stombaugh, University of Kentucky agricultural engineer. Another benefit is record keeping, he said. Use of the light bar enables the farmer to record where he has been and whether he was spraying anything or not. Interest in record keeping using light bars began with crop dusters, Stombaugh said.

Additionally, light bars are helpful in places where markers are hard to see and they direct the drivers attention to the center rather than to the markers at the side.

In tests conducted by Stombaugh and others, light bars showed a marked advantage over the use of foam markers. With foam markers, drivers are doing a good job, he said, but their accuracy can be improved by 1 to 2 percent.

Farmers need to consider how much that 1 to 2 percent reduction in chemical use will save them, and if it is enough to justify the costs of a light bar. Light bars can cost anywhere from $4,000 to $20,000, he said. The accuracy of the light bar depends on the GPS system, he said.

Light bars come in a variety of designs. Some contain two lines of lights, others one and others more of a computer screen with a figure showing whether it is on track or not.

Stombaugh said determining the best design is generally just user preference. As farmers attend machinery shows this winter, he suggested they look at various light bars. Features to look for include automatic path find, look ahead capability, update rates, data logging, return to point, and compatibilty with other GPS equipment.

The technology is still advancing and has some bugs yet to be worked out in terms of dealing with fields that have contours, he said.

"The technology is a potential asset," Stombaugh said.


Tim Stombaugh, (859) 257-3000 ext. 214