How is Tractor Guidance used to Improve Crop Production?

Jan 24, 2023

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When driving, you might be familiar with using a navigation app to get you to your destination. Often, you can choose the fastest route or the most gas-efficient route.

Farmers also can use navigation apps called “tractor guidance systems.” Like your car navigation, these systems use GPS, or global positioning satellite systems. GPS can help farmers to optimize their use of fertilizer, seed, and even herbicides (often referred to collectively as “inputs”).

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?

A recent study showed that farmers using tractor guidance have higher efficiency gains meaning, less labor, fewer greenhouse gas emissions, reduced non-point source pollution, and greater cost savings per unit area

A recent study showed that farmers using tractor guidance have higher efficiency gains meaning, less labor, fewer greenhouse gas emissions, reduced non-point source pollution, and greater cost savings per unit area

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.

Smaller farmers often associate the costs of installing tractor guidance system as too high, creating obstacles to their adoption. However, researchers at USDA-ARS identified these systems can be economical, even for small farms. They also found that tractor guidance improves farm operation efficiencies by up to 20%.

Just like your car must deal with potholes and other issues with the road surface, farm fields have irregularities. Farmers using tractors even have to navigate obstacles like trees, and ponds. And, farm fields have various slopes as well. All of these issues have been found to impact the gains from tractor guidance.

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