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GPS has myriad benefits for farmers

Staff writer

With the help of a global positioning system, farmer Randy Vogel of rural Marion was able to see his son, Eric, compete at the state track meet and still get the day’s work done.

It was the right time to plant crops, and conditions in fields were good to get the work done, but Vogel wanted to see his son compete in the track meet. He went to the event and returned home late, but was able to plant at night.

“If I wouldn’t have had GPS, I couldn’t have done that,” he said.

Vogel got a GPS receiver about a year ago. The unit he bought didn’t include an automatic steering function, but it could be upgraded later, he said.

He mostly uses it when seeding and spraying fields. GPS replaces a system that leaves visible marks where the equipment has been.

“I think it’s an improvement over not having it,” Vogel said.

GPS is especially helpful with no-till farming, because marks in fields can be difficult to see even during the day, he said. The system Vogel bought is accurate to within 6 to 8 inches, he said.

“But like anything else, it has its quirks,” he said.

The ability to plant after dark was especially helpful this past spring because of how wet it was. Vogel said he was able to make the most of the few days that were dry enough to plant.

An important use of GPS in farming is controlling input costs. With accurate GPS, farmers can reduce and eliminate overlaps and skips while planting and spraying fields, said T.J. Ryan of Straub International of Marion. For farmers with a lot of ground, reducing overlap allows them to cut fuel, fertilizer, and chemical expenses.

“It used to be thought of more as a toy,” said Randy Rice of Prairieland Partners of Marion.

But as more farmers try the technology, more embrace it, he said.

GPS technology does have limits, even when integrated with auto-steering technology. Farmers still have to pay attention to what they are doing, Rice said.

“It doesn’t know when there’s a tree in the middle of a field,” he said.

Last modified Oct. 21, 2010

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