How GPS Has Modernized Agriculture
Far from the traditional agrarian methods that we’ve used since the days of Ben Franklin, today’s farmers are using a mix of modern innovations to maximize efficiency and improve productivity.
In the 2009 Star Trek remake, a young Captain Kirk rides his motorcycle through the farmland of Iowa before stopping to view the Starship Enterprise being constructed in a massive drydock. The contrast is clear – it’s about the old and new, past and future, analog and high tech. While we may still be a few centuries from exploring the stars, GPS and other modern technologies are already bringing the future to today’s farms.
How GPS Has Opened Up New Possibilities for Business
GPS uses a series of satellites positioned in orbit around the earth to precisely determine your location on the planet. Created by the Department of Defense in the 1970s, GPS has spread to the private sector and become ubiquitous. It keeps planes organized in the skies, tracks the movement of goods in trucks, trains, and ships, and powers the navigation systems in our cars.
On the farm, however, there is little need for its global reach. In agriculture, the uses are hyper-localized, not just to single farms and fields but also in smaller subsections. GPS has given rise to precision farming, allowing farmers to use their land in new and more productive ways.
GPS Keeps Farm Equipment on the Right Path
In its most basic use, GPS allows farmers to know exactly where they are on their farms. By tying GPS into tractors and other equipment, farmers can till and plant and harvest accurately. Some systems can even automatically drive equipment along predetermined routes using GPS, reducing the possibility of human error.
If you’ve ever driven through the countryside and been mesmerized by the long narrow rows of crops as they blur past your car, you’ve seen the power of precision in farming. Crops that can be planted as close together as is possible mean higher yields with the same amount of land. For example, GPS allows a farmer to till the land, fertilize it, and plant seeds using the same route each time, minimizing wasted potential. But where GPS shines for farmers is when it is combined with other technology.
Turning Fields into Data
One of the most potent tools to combine with GPS is a geographical information system (GIS). GIS can be used to track any number of metrics and overlay that information to precise locations in a field. These metrics include soil quality, topography, average yield, and many other essential variables. When combined with GPS, a GIS allows farmers to maximize each part of their land, increasing productivity. It is also helpful for maintenance activities, such as where to spray insecticide, what sections of soil need fertilization, and where the best place is to plant seeds.
Data for GIS is collected from a variety of sources by local and national. Aircraft, drones, satellites and field equipment can all be equipped with sensors to detect variables and provide up-to-date information. In many ways, the modern farmer is not so different from a general on the battlefield, surveying an area of operations and strategizing with all available data. In both instances, GPS is a tool for cutting down on uncertainty.
Cutting Down on Waste
In addition to increasing productivity, these technologies also cut down on waste. Traditionally, farmers might have relied on historical data and broader regional information to decide how to manage their fields. But the goal of GPS and GIS is to deliver specific information and improve decision making. In the past, if the soil needed moisture, a farmer might water the whole field. But with precise information, watering can be limited to the areas that need it most, saving water – a valuable consideration for farmers in dry locations. The same can be said for adding nutrients where needed or spraying pesticides only where pests are located. This can translate into savings over an extended period. These savings, when combined with better yields and more intelligent decisions, may improve profitability.
The Final Frontier of Agriculture
It is still the early days for precision farming, and, like all new technologies, the upfront costs can put off a lot of smaller businesses. But technology costs tend to come down over time, so smaller farms that are priced out today may not be tomorrow.
A paper from the University of Missouri on precision farming concluded that GPS and other precision farming tools could improve agricultural operations but found it harder to nail down a concrete cost-benefit analysis. According to the paper, “Questions remain about cost-effectiveness and the most effective ways to use the technological tools we now have, but the concept of ‘doing the right thing in the right place at the right time’ has a strong intuitive appeal.”
Farming requires a pragmatic approach to succeed. It is still crucial for farmers to research solutions and see if a precision farming solution is right for them.
If you’d like to learn more about how GPS Trackit can help to improve safety, increase productivity and reduce costs for your business, speak with one of our knowledgeable Fleet Advisors at 866-320-5810 or get a quick Custom Quote.
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