Food for Thought: How GPS Improves Farming

By Paula Reinman

This blog post is part of our GPS Files series, highlighting innovative uses for GPS.

Going somewhere new? If you’re like me, the first thing you do is pop up your favorite mapping application. But did you know that in addition to helping you find your way to dinner, GPS is helping an improved food supply find its way to your table at home?

Brad Peterson Marconi Fellow

Brad Parkinson, 2016 Marconi Fellow, tells us in this new video (below) that agriculture is one of the most transformative uses for GPS.

Precision, or site-specific, farming combines GPS (Global Positioning Systems) with GIS (Geographic Information Systems) to change the relationship between farmers and their land. This change is good for consumers, farmers, workers and the environment. Benefits include:

  • Helping farmers increase yields by treating their fields at a micro level, scrupulously using the right amounts of crop protection and precious water resources for each field
  • Allowing very accurate fertilizer placement and reducing the amount of excess fertilizer that seeps into ground water, rivers and streams
  • Helping crews work safely in low visibility conditions including rain, darkness and fog

The power of technology is changing the economic equation for farms of all sizes, from individual family-owned farms to agribusiness. Along the way, many farmers have gone from technology skeptics to believers in field mapping, soil sampling, tractor guidance and yield mapping.

The Marconi Society Fellows’ ground-breaking innovations are changing our lives each day. Check out our latest video featuring Brad Parkinson to learn more about how GPS is impacting the world’s agriculture market.


Video Transcript

[Start recorded material 00:00:00]

I could use position to land airplanes.  I can use position for a lot of things. And perhaps the most telling thing I find persuasive right now is for agriculture. And when we first pioneered that at Stanford, it turns out John Deere, who was sponsoring us, was very skeptical. Today, if you ask any farmer in the United States, not only will they know what GPS is, they’ll speak a language even you would not understand. Do you know what real-time kinematic is? They do. Because that’s what allows them to position their tractor to a few inches.

If you ask a farmer: Why does he do it? He says, “It saves me money.” Now, you say, “Well, that’s pretty good for the farmer.” It’s good for you and I, too. The cost of fertilizer in I think California alone is over $1 billion a year on a farm. So if you can save 10 or 20 percent, you’re talking enormous amounts of money. And, by the way, the extra fertilizer, which is not needed, sinks into the ground water. And if you look at the outlet of the Mississippi and analyze what’s coming out, it is poisoning the fish. It is absolutely a hazard.

And, also, in the fog they want to work but they can’t see the field. GPS solves all those problems.

[End of recording 00:01:49]