News

    Farming by GPS Saves Money, Environment

    Navigation systems become standard on modern farm equipment

    As spring planting goes into high gear in the United States, farmers are going high-tech in order to use less fertilizer, save money and protect the environment.



    Satellite-based GPS navigation systems are becoming standard on modern farm equipment, helping farmers get the most from their fields.

    Mixing tradition with technology

    On a weedy patch of land an hour and half from Washington, D.C., farmer Brad Eustace is tilling razor-straight lines with a GPS-guided tractor. With the computer in control, he barely has to steer.

    “You can do a straight line a whole lot easier,” he says.

    The GPS computer receives signals from earth-orbiting satellites to keep track of where his tractor is and where it has gone. Hoses deliver precise amounts of fertilizer right into the grooves that the tiller cuts.

    Virginia farmer Brad Eustace uses a GPS-guided tractor to til his fields.
    Virginia farmer Brad Eustace uses a GPS-guided tractor to til his fields.

    That process prepares the field for when farmer Jimmy Messick comes back days, or even weeks later, with a GPS-guided corn planter…  

    "The seed goes right on top of this row. This tilled row," Messick says. "The corn planter will come back, and it will be putting the seeds exactly on top of these tilled strips that the machine previously has put the fertilizer in.”

    Saving money

    Placing seed and fertilizer together with centimeter precision means fewer loads of fertilizer go on the fields.

    “You’re able to use less," Messick says. "Of course, you’re saving money. And you get the same performance out of the crop.”

    Messick has cut amounts of one fertilizer ingredient in half. On a 600-hectare farm, he says that saves him tens of thousands of dollars.

    And that’s not all he’s saving. Nutrients from farm fertilizers are a leading cause of water pollution.

    Environmentally friendly

    “If we get better at applying only what’s needed, where they’re needed, then that’s less nutrients that can move off and get into water systems and watersheds,” says Virginia Tech University farming expert Tim Mize.

    Jimmy Messick also uses GPS when he sprays weed killer. Before, he says, it was easier to miss spots or overlap.

    “You weren’t sure what had been done, and what hadn’t been done," he says. "With this system, you come back next week, next month, and you know what you sprayed and what you didn’t spray.”

    GPS technology is guiding large-scale farm equipment across the country and some harvesters also monitor how much crop is produced in each part of a field.

    “You get an idea of where the productive areas of the field are," says Virginia's Tech's Mize, "where the less productive areas are, and you fertilize accordingly.”

    With the price of fertilizers and fuel going up, along with the global demand for food, Mize says the name of the game today is getting the most crop with the least resources.

    “Anytime you can reduce inputs and increase your bottom line, that’s technology that everybody wants.”

    It’s hands-free technology that’s saving money and the environment.


    Steve Baragona

    Steve Baragona is an award-winning multimedia journalist covering science, environment and health.

    He spent eight years in molecular biology and infectious disease research before deciding that writing about science was more fun than doing it. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a master’s degree in journalism in 2002.

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Rulingi
    X
    May 03, 2016 5:16 PM
    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.
    Video

    Video Elephant Summit Results in $5M in Pledges, Presidential Support

    Attended and supported by three African presidents, a three-day anti-poaching summit has concluded in Kenya, resulting in $5 million in pledges and a united message to the world that elephants are worth more alive than dead. The summit culminated at the Nairobi National Park with the largest ivory burn in history. VOA’s Jill Craig attended the summit and has this report about the outcomes.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Football Team Helps War-Torn City Cope

    With the conflict still raging across much of Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, between the rebel PKK and the Turkish state, many Kurds are trying to escape the turmoil by focusing on the success of their football team Amedspor in Diyarbakir. The club is increasingly becoming a symbol for Kurds, not only in Diyarbakir but beyond. Dorian Jones reports from southeast Turkey.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora