GPS systems have been around for a while now, most of your everyday devices such as phone, car or satnav will have a global positioning system build into their system. When it comes to precision agriculture, using GPS has many advantages that could benefit precision farmers endlessly. There are however certain aspects about GPS that you need to be aware of before taking the plunge and buying one for your farm.
The primary consideration when purchasing a GPS or any bit of tech for your farm is the cost of doing so. GPS ranges from relatively cheap to very expensive and it is definitely worth working out if your can afford one. A decent system will start at around the value of $2500 but they can easily reach $10,000+ in value depending on the complexity of the system you are looking for.
If you have established, you can afford the system you should then look at whether a GPS will recoup the expenditure by generating more revenue or savings than the value of the system. Precision farming is all about increasing margins with the implementation of technology, if buying a GPS doesn’t pay for itself in the long run then you should avoid purchasing altogether and look at other technology options that will be more beneficial.
Which Type of GPS?
Currently there are 3 main types of GPS system. Some of them have ongoing subscription costs so make sure that when you’re deciding which system is best for you that you are again calculating any ongoing costs.
USCGBS – The United States Coast Guard Beacon System
This system is a great piece of tech, but it has major limitations. Firstly, it only works in the United States of America and secondly it only works in the US close to bodies of water, this means unless your farm is within proximity of a waterway or coastline it is likely to be absolutely useless.
If your farm is close to a body of water in the US, then this may well be the system you should choose. Be cautious about how far your farm is from the body of water, the further away the poorer the signal from the towers and this degradation could still render the system useless. Farms close to bodies of water in the US can enjoy this system and reviews of farms using it have been very positive.
Differential Source Satellite System
This is the closest (if not the same) as the GPS that you would use when mapping your car journey. The system is available all over the world and uses satellites to identify positions and locations. From a farming perspective this is ideal for rural or remote farms, but it is also the most expensive of the 3. The differential source system uses monthly subscriptions to the service and the initial upfront cost of installing it can be hefty as well.
If the profit outweighs the cost and you don’t have access to the other systems we mention, then this is the system you should invest in. It is robust, practical and widely available.
WAAS – Wide Area Augmentation System
The WAAS uses a system from the Federal Aviation Administration or FAA. If you use drones on your farm in the US, you might well have come across the FAA already. Agricultural users are in abundance across the US on the WAAS and have fed back very positive results. With no ongoing subscription costs and pinpoint accuracy if you’re a farmer in the US then this system should be your first point of call, with the USCGBS second and the standard differential as last resort.
For farmers outside of the US the WAAS like the USCGBS is useless and the differential source system remains the only real viable alternative unless there are localised platforms in your area like the US specific systems that could replace the differential source. Be sure to double check with other local precision farmers which GPS they use as they may be able to point you towards a great local alternative.
The next point of consideration before purchasing a GPS system should be how you plan to use GPS on your farm. Many farmers feel that a GPS will help as a guidance steering aid which is actually a fantastic application for GPS, however, working as a guidance steering aid does have limitations. If you were planning to use GPS solely for planting, then you would be gravely disappointed by the results. This is because planting has complexities that a GPS system can’t calculate effectively, meaning the farmer would still be needed to minimise the error level associated with GPS steering aids and also calculate the right planter row widths.
Working as a steering aid is good for jobs that don’t require a huge degree of precision. A GPS system can also be used for other farm jobs such as mapping, spraying and expansion planning. A GPS system is by no means limited to simply guiding vehicles around a field.
GPS and Your Existing Farm Tech
As mentioned, GPS has many practical applications across a wide range of areas, it can integrate well with drones, tractors, combines and other plant machinery. The next consideration should be that the tech you have on your farm is compatible with GPS technology. After all there is no point paying out for an expensive GPS system and not being able to implement it in the way that you envisage.
Many pieces of precision technology require additional software to use in collaboration with GPS, drones are a prime example of this, ordinarily relying on driver/farmer input for guidance, some will have additional software that can be bolted on allowing automation through GPS but will also need some level of farmer input as a precautionary measure to ensure safety and reduce risks of an accident.
The last point to mention on GPS and specifically automation of existing tech using GPS is that you should check all insurance is up to date and covers the use of tech without the necessity of a driver.
Storage, Application and Processing Rates
The last point to mention about GPS is where you will store or “home” the GPS. This should realistically be done in a secure area, preferably within the machinery. A tractor often has room to accommodate a GPS system and likewise a lot of plant machinery come with GPS platforms built in. If they don’t then think about where it is safest to house the GPS system.
The GPS system works on a processing rate, this is subject to interference and you can consider it the same as a broadband signal in the sense that it can work at an optimal speed, slow down or drop out altogether. Your GPS will need to process information without obstruction in as close to real time as is possible so pay attention to signal when you’re housing your GPS. It can be incredibly dangerous to have heavy plant machinery operating in an automated fashion and have the GPS system cut out entirely.
Do you use GPS on your farm? What do you use it for? Which system do you use and what profit margins have you experienced? Let us know in the comments below.