How is tractor guidance used to improve crop production?

Like a GPS for a car, farmers can use navigation systems to optimize farm production

January 23 2023 – Like your car navigation, farmers also use global positioning satellite systems (or GPS) in the form of tractor guidance. Tractor guidance can help farmers to optimize their use of fertilizer, seed, and even herbicides (often referred to collectively as “inputs”). The January 22nd Sustainable, Secure Food Blog explains the use of this tool and its benefits to farmers.

The tractor guidance system includes a satellite signal receiver, antennae, controller, and display that is mounted inside the tractor. This farm machinery helps with two production input-related questions: where and how much to apply?

Using tractor guidance allows growers to not overapply or underapply the inputs. And using GPS makes the tractor follow more precise routes over the field, creating more even applications within a field. When fertilizer or other inputs are applied more evenly, this helps crops and results in greater crop yields. It can also reduce the amount of fertilizers leaving the field and entering waterbodies.

Dr. Tulsi Kharel, of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), was part of a study that researched the impact that operator experience had on tractor efficiencies – without using a navigation system. So, could humans beat the machine? The research team looked at groups of tractor drivers who had 0-1 year of experience, two years, three years, and then six-plus years’ experience.

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