Variable rate technology for dry applications utilizing aircraft has been around for about ten years. Pete Jones’ of Air Repair in Cleveland, Mississippi was one of the first to develop a hydraulically driven gate system that can apply variable and constant rates of dry material. As an option, the hydraulic system is also able to operate flaps and the spray valve of the ag-aircraft.
There are two basic functions of the Air Repair Rx Gate System: to provide either a constant rate of dry material application or a variable rate dictated by a prescription. The advantages of the Rx Gate System are very evident for a number of ag operators in the Mississippi Delta. Many of these operators have been using the system since the onset.
Within a similar time window of ten years, both GPS and aircraft powered by turbine engines went from resistance by ag-operators to where a majority of ag-operations are using GPS and turbine powered ag-planes. Such has not yet been the case for the Rx Gate System, yet. AgAir Update decided to learn more about the Rx Gate System, knowing that it is only a matter of time when variable rate applications will become the norm.
AgAir Update interviewed several ag-operators with extensive experience with the Rx Gate System and prescription dry applications. It found several common denominators that were consistently repeated. Without fail, everyone swore by the unit, saying they could not envision operating without it. All liked the ability to make very precise dry applications, regardless of the groundspeed, in the constant rate mode. None had any maintenance issues and everyone praised the excellent support from Air Repair.
The most common application is potash on corn and preplant ground for soybeans with constant and variable rates varying from 50-300 pounds. When prescriptions are used for variable rate applications, Matt Peterson, located in Memphis, writes the software based on soil samples.
Here are comments from ag-operators that do the best job of defining the Air Repair Rx Gate System:
Riverside Air / Shelby, MS
“Seems like we are always trying to beat a storm and high winds becomes a factor. The constant rate ability of the unit keeps our applications accurate. In the five years I have had the unit, it has created an early gross that was not there before. The first system I had paid for it with two outside jobs. Now, I’m kind of bummed that so many operators in my area have one.
“The first variable rate job I did called for 20.3 tones. They sent 20.7 tons. I didn’t touch anything and I had 600 pounds left over.”
Wil-Co Flying Service / De Witt, AR
“I’ve been using the unit for over five years on my 602s and 802s. We have worked with Pete for over ten years, installing the prototype unit on a 510 Thrush. The functions I like best are the accuracy of calibration and ease of use.
“Our business is 66% dry fertilizer. We apply heavy pre-flood rates at 200 – 250 pounds per acre to rice and 200-300 pounds per acre on corn. This system allows us to be more profitable by spreading high rates with the 802s. It is so much easier to use than the standard manual gate, just a flip of a switch, no physical moving, fast operating.”
Mark Kimmel, farmer/operator
Dixie Dusters / Itta Bena, MS
“Ten years ago I saved over $14,000 with a variable rate potash application on 400 acres. Before I trusted the system, I would stand in the field where the application would turn on or off and see just how accurate it was. My yields improved dramatically. In the past, we would put a blanket application of potash, usually about 300 pounds. If the soil samples, which were averaged, called for less, then we would blanket a lesser amount.
“When we went to variable rate applications, we found the yields improved because we were not over or under fertilizing. As a bonus, as the years went by using variable rate, we found our application rates were going down as the potash built up in the soil. Before, we were typically blanketing 200 pounds per acre, where now we find an 80 pound per acre maintenance dose is common. We use less fertilizer overall and get better yields.
“Dixie Dusters bought the first unit in Mississippi. We were able to offer variable rate applications for two years, before other operators started offering the service. We literally flew all over the state. Farmers prepare their fields in the fall and do not want spreader trucks running over and compacting the rows in the spring. Of course, when it is wet, they can’t use the truck. We set our prices by the hour and to be at least as much as the truck. Our fields look like carpet. The applications provide even growth throughout. We take soil samples on a five-acre grid and our prescriptions are written from those samples.“
Cleveland Air Service / Cleveland, MS
“The unit is simple to use and very well organized. I had been using other hydraulic systems in the past and the technology of the Air Repair system is way ahead of the game! After using the system for the first time I asked myself, “Why hadn’t I done this sooner?” My customers are amazed at what it can do. I think some ag-operators are of the old school and scared to take the plunge to buy one. I’ve had mine for going on four years and love it. It is so easy to use and very accurate.”
Stokes Flying Service Marion, AR
“I started using the unit this year without any problems. We have not yet used the variable rate option, but I see a lot of potential for it. The biggest advantage I see so far are the consistent rate. The fields flown up and downwind just look better. I have done some heavy rates, 300 pounds per acre with a 60-foot swath with our Thrush instead of 45 feet. The applications seem to look as good or better. With the standard gate you can’t get out enough material. If I got a new plane tomorrow, I would want another Air Repair system installed.”
Shelby Air Service / Shelby, MS
“We found we could increase our swath by 20% and get a continuous rate on the windiest days. For our variable rate prescriptions, chemical companies take the soil samples and send to Matt Peterson for the prescription that we can download from the Internet, place on a thumb drive and insert into our Satloc GPS.
“I’ve had the unit for a year and a half and believe it will pay for itself in a couple of seasons just on fuel savings. We remind our customers of the variable rate option and they love it. The system is very durable and extremely easy to use. You never have to adjust the gate when changing from dry to wet. I can’t say enough good about the ability to do continuous rate dry fertilizer. It gives the pilot great confidence on those really windy days.”
Valley Air Applicators Indianola, MS
“This is our third season with the Air Repair hydraulic gate system on our 550 Thrush. Using the standard 5” Transland gate and 22007 8-vane spreader, we are easily achieving rates of 275 pounds per acre or more. “I convinced my customer base to pool their spring potash prescription applications together for greater efficiency. A map was generated that covered 14,034 acres with 903 tons of potash at eight different rates from 0-200 pounds per acre (see prescription map).”
Jones’ pilot, David Miller, has used this system since 2009, “I flew the job over 63.58 Hobb hours and 14 days which included some weather delays. Runs were 11 miles long with some runs requiring three 4,000 pound loads. The material ran out on the next to last pass being off by only one ton of the 903 tons. We use the system at the prescription level a lot, but it also works great in constant rate on every job. Passes are uniform upwind and downwind even on a 20 mph windy day giving the grower a better quality job. On top of that, your arm isn’t worn out at the end of the day.”
Producers Flying Service / Louise, MS
”I like the variable rate capabilities and ground speed compensation (flow control) that gives me the ability to offer another service to my customers. I was impressed with the simplicity of learning the system, its accuracy and durability. I’ve had very few maintenance issues. I’ve been operating both the dry and liquid variable rate features since 2006.
“On average I’ve picked up one new user each year, in several cases it’s not a regular customer, since my competitors do not want to make the investment. I haven’t had a customer stop using the technology since they started with it.
At first, I marketed the unit by approaching the innovative customers, the respected growers that all the others tend to watch closely to learn. Once I got the snowball formed and rolling, well you know what happens after that…
“The system has had a tremendous impact on my business. It has created a new market that fills gaps in my season that otherwise I would be sitting on the ground. It makes me money.”
Variable and constant rate technology, especially for dry applications, is here to stay. The pathway to offer grower customers not only savings on their fertilizer costs, but also an increase in yields is readily available. With soil sampling and the Internet, the prescription for a variable rate application is only a computer away using the Rx Gate System by Air Repair. Forward looking ag-operators will take the initiative to apply fertilizer with this system, often at high rate with a wider swath, saving time and money, while creating a new market for their company and providing a better service for their customers. Those applicators that say they don’t have customers wanting prescription applications never will if the service is not in place and available. For farmers that are soil sampling and using ground rigs to apply high rates of fertilizer, an applicator with the Rx Gate System could have that business.