Agriculture and GPS

High-precision GPS is critically important to United States agriculture, which plays a vital role in the U.S. economy.

High-precision GPS receivers are widely used in agriculture — enabling farmers to manage land, water, seed, fertilizer, pesticides and labor. This significantly minimizes costs and waste, greatly increases efficiency and crop yields, and responsibly manages important environmental concerns.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimated 2012 U.S. net farm income to exceed $122 billion, with farm equity rising to nearly $2.3 trillion — an all-time high. More than 922 million acres are devoted to U.S. agriculture, which employs 2.6 million workers, and high-precision GPS is responsible for important crop production gains.

A June 2011 economic study found that during the 2007-2010 crop years, high-precision GPS agriculture practices accounted for $19.9 billion in crop production gains through higher yields and lower input costs. That's equal to 11.8 percent of the total U.S. crop production value. GPS technology is also used in nearly 95 percent of all crop dusting services.

The expanded use of GPS is the most significant single technological advancement for American farm equipment in the past 15 years. Farmers use GPS for accurate mapping of field boundaries, roads and irrigation systems; for precision planting; and for targeting the application of fertilizer and chemicals that combat weeds and crop diseases. GPS also allows farmers to work despite low-visibility field conditions such as rain, dust, fog and darkness.

High-precision positioning GPS systems utilize more GPS signals than consumer GPS devices, that along with the use of various forms of augmentation signals dramatically increase accuracy. The computer systems that power today's modern farm machinery are programmed with the exact measurements of a field.

Those GPS guidance systems automatically steer tractors to plow fields in razor straight lines with variances of two inches or less. It allows famers to plant seeds and apply fertilizers and herbicide with similar precision. This all allows farmers to cover more acres with greater accuracy in less time, reducing fuel, chemical and fertilizer costs. GPS-enabled irrigation systems can play a major role as well: a recent research report commissioned by Google estimated that widespread use of GPS-based precision irrigation alone could save between $8-22 billion worth of water worldwide.

High-precision GPS has played a major role in increased agricultural productivity and will continue to do so. As Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack pointed out in 2012, "There have been extraordinary, and I want to emphasize extraordinary, productivity gains in agriculture. In my lifetime, corn has increased in this country by 300 percent in terms of productivity. Soybeans and wheat, 200 percent. . . . In fact, according to recent studies, agriculture has been the second most productive aspect of the American economy since 1980."