If your impression of farmers is that of a community of old-fashioned minds stubbornly hanging on to outdated methods, you haven’t spent much time on the farm lately. Technology has made the farming industry more efficient in countless ways, and using GPS is one of them. In the fields of Queensland, Australia, a recent local newspaper article notes that you can spot a yellow GPS receiver on nearly every new tractor.
The John Deere company aims to become the industry’s leader in incorporating GPS technology into the farming process. It funds a robust, aggressive research division that constantly looks for new ways that GPS can help farmers utilize their equipment and resources more efficiently. The possibilities are nearly endless, and new applications are becoming available all the time. The sugar farmers of northern Queensland have been quite receptive to these efforts, and a sophisticated network of reference points—“base stations” which provide local farmers with excellent GPS accuracy. Farmers using GPS in the area enjoy accuracy within two centimeters, practically perfect for farming purposes.
What advantages does GPS give to farmers? It allows them to map out their fields and make note of unique characteristics that affect planting and harvesting. It makes it very easy for them to keep track of pesticide spraying and fertilizing history. And very soon, a new feature will assist in the process of leveling land before planting. In the field, every inch of land counts, and the more accurately it is used, the more profit it generates. GPS information can make a huge contribution to reducing wasted land, fertilizer, and unharvested crops, which will translate into gains for farmers.
Honeycombes is the Australian company responsible for joining John Deere in bringing this powerful tool to Queensland sugar farming. They began setting up the base station system five years ago, and shortly afterward the Australian government instituted the Reef Rescue Plan. The program rewards activity that contributes to responsible land use, and some of that money went toward helping Honeycombes get local farmers started using GPS on their tractors and harvesting equipment.
So say goodbye to the image of a farmer smoking a corncob pipe and wearing a floppy hat—today’s farmer is a GPS expert, checking a touch-screen display to maximize his crop’s potential.