GPS in Jeopardy?

One of the most advantageous technological advancements, if not THE most advantageous technological advancement of modern farming, is global positioning systems (GPS).

As stewards of the land, farmers practice sustainable agriculture daily, and GPS technology has dramatically improved agriculture’s ability to provide food, feed, fuel and fiber with less environmental impact.

GPS technology also improves agriculture’s cost and time effectiveness.

A third, unassuming benefit of GPS to the industry is the accessibility it provides to inexperienced farmers who rely on the technology to compensate for lack of instinctive know-how.

GPS Farm Uses (Virginia Tech webpage):
  • Mapping yields (GPS + combine yield monitor)
  • Variable rate planting (GPS + variable-rate planter drive)
  • Variable rate lime and fertilizer application (GPS + variable-rate spreader drive)
  • Variable rate pesticide application (GPS + variable-rate applicator)
  • Field mapping for records and insurance purposes (GPS + mapping software)
  • Parallel swathing (GPS + navigation tool)
GPS Farm Operations Benefits (
  • Precision soil sampling, data collection and data analysis enable localized variation of chemical applications and planting density to suit specific areas of the field
  • Accurate field navigation minimizes redundant applications and skipped areas; enables maximum ground coverage in the least possible time
  • Ability to work with low-visibility field conditions such as rain, dust, fog and darkness
  • Accurately monitors yield data to enable future site-specific field preparation
  • Eliminates need for human "flaggers" and increases spray efficiency to minimize “over-spray”
Because of its impressive assistance to the ag industry, several groups are worried about a recent Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approval that may disrupt GPS signals, according to a recent study.

LightSquared, America’s first wholesale-only wireless broadband network, plans to invest $15 billion to build a wireless service using 40,000 base radio stations — merging satellite and terrestrial technology, to create a new nationwide, 4G-LTE wireless broadband network. An FCC waiver allows them to repurpose the nation’s existing satellite spectrum to complete its venture, according to a Bloomberg story.

LightSquared contends that it has developed and submitted a three-part plan to the FCC that addresses the expressed interference concerns its work will cause to the country’s GPS signals.

“This issue will be resolved by good data, smart engineers and good faith problem solving dialog. The end-result will be continuity for the reliable and safe GPS system we have come to depend on along with a new high speed wireless network that will provide huge benefits to consumers,’’ said Sanjiv Ahuja, LightSquared Chairman and CEO.

John Deere is spearheading the “Coalition to Save Our GPS,” a movement to advocate for the demise of LightSquared’s plans.

According to a coalition news release:

“More than 3.3 million U.S. jobs in agriculture and industries rely heavily on Global Positioning System (GPS) technology and the disruption of interference with GPS posed by LightSquared’s planned deployment of 40,000 ground stations threatens direct economic costs of up to $96 billion to U.S. commercial GPS users and manufacturers, according to an economic study.”

The coalition includes package shippers FedEx Corp. and United Parcel Service Inc., GPS-unit makers Trimble and Garmin Ltd. and the Air Transport Association with members Delta Air Lines Inc. and AMR Corp.’s American Airlines.

Ken Golden, director of global public relations at John Deere:

“The use of GPS technology is vital to thousands of people who make their living with agricultural and construction equipment. It is simply not acceptable to allow this new network to interfere with these important industries when all indications are that there is no practical solution to mitigate this interference. In agriculture, the loss of a stable GPS system could have an impact of anywhere from $14 to $30 billion each year. That could significantly erode the strong competitive global position of U.S. farmers in the world agricultural economy. Serious impacts to the productivity of those in the construction business also will be apparent.”

LightSquared asserts that its effort will “bring world-class Internet service to the United States, including rural areas and other underserved communities and injects new competition in an increasingly consolidating wireless market.”

To listen to an audio clip of one of the coalition members expressing his concern for the agriculture industry, visit

How often do you use/rely on GPS? If you farm, has your operation improved as a result of GPS? Do you think that LightSquared can develop a non-obtrusive system?

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