GPS trims environmental impact
Precision agriculture took a major step forward occurred when in 1995 the United States’ GPS constellation NAVSTAR was made available for non-military use for the first time, explained Albert Zahalka, senior vice president Topcon Precision Agriculture at the recent World Ag Expo in Tulare, Calif.
Initial accuracies were only within tens of meters but now an accuracy of within 2 centimeters is common, he explained in an interview, something which is actually unique to precision agriculture systems developed by Topcon.
A key element is the use of two or more satellite constellations: the U.S. GPS system, and the Russian GLONASS. When satellite signals from multiple constellations are used, it’s known as GNSS, or Global Navigation Satellite System.
With GPS and GLONASS, users have access to more than 40 satellites — and Topcon was the world’s first manufacturer to be able to access both.
Additional satellites are expected to come online as two other systems — Europe’s Galileo and China’s Compass — become operational. Receivers such as Topcon’s G3 receiver system have been designed specifically to access all available satellite signals.
• Topcon will be able to access satellites belonging to Europe and China.
• The overlooked advantage of precision agriculture is environmental.
• Farmers worldwide will access total farm management systems.
Perhaps the overlooked advantage of precision agriculture is that it reduces pollution and runoff through lower chemical use, minimal overspray and better targeting, because sprays, nutrients, etc., are only used where they are needed.
An example is Topcon’s CropSpec, with its on-the-go crop canopy sensing, which means chemicals are only applied as needed. Combine this with a weather station, and farmers can ensure they only spray when the conditions are right, whether day or night — for example, avoiding spraying when wind conditions are not suitable.
Crop canopy sensing offers farmers additional benefits. In the past, too many farmers have seen profits go “blowing in the wind” through wasted fertilizer, pesticide or water.
With below 2-centimeter accuracy, particularly using electric steering technology, the farmer travels on exactly the same track each time; that translates into big fuel savings by maintaining that single track over many miles of plowing, seeding or spraying. And the land benefits, because less soil is compacted. This also translates to lower time, energy and resource inputs.
Very soon, farmers anywhere in the world will have access to total farm management systems. This gives the ability to manage business from inside their home, or wirelessly via computer from a piece of farm equipment.
This article published in the April, 2010 edition of CALIFORNIA FARMER.