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GNSS key to farm of the future

Photo: Kamada Kaori/iStock / Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

Photo: Kamada Kaori/iStock / Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

GPS World spoke with Guillermo Perez-Iturbe, Trimble’s marketing director – agriculture, about the challenges for farms in adopting precision agriculture, including time, cost and connectivity issues in rural areas.

What technical challenges are faced in applying GNSS?

GNSS technology is at the center of precision agriculture and is one of the key enablers for the farm of the future. GNSS helps boost productivity, environmental sustainability and economic competitiveness.

Trimble’s GNSS agriculture solutions provide reliable, accurate positioning that can be tailored to meet specific needs, including different crops (broadacre vs. row crops) and activities (such as tilling, planting of fertilization.). Trimble’s portfolio connects farming operations and includes guidance and steering; grade control, leveling and drainage; flow and application control; irrigation; harvest solutions; desktop and cloud-based data management; and correction services.

However, one of the challenges to fully realize the benefits of the future farm is connectivity. Typically, ag customers are in rural areas, where the available communications infrastructure to support Wi-Fi or cellular data communications varies widely. This can impact the ability to share information between field and office as well as between machines in the field.

But connectivity challenges have a lower impact on GNSS positioning. For example, farmers can leverage satellite-delivered corrections provided by Trimble RTX correction services using a compatible GNSS receiver and subscription service. This plays an important role in areas such as Latin America. In many areas in Europe and North America, farms can utilize a virtual reference station (VRS) for precise GNSS. There are also farms globally that operate their own GNSS reference networks or base stations to support accurate, high-precision, real-time positioning.

What are the remaining obstacles to adoption?

There is little resistance to the technology per se. The performance and value of precision farming are well known. Adoption rates can range from 80% to less than 40%, depending on geographic location, farm size (small family or large corporate farm), types of machines or crops, and etc.

Obstacles can come from multiple forms. For example, in some parts of the world farm staff may lack the skills or qualifications needed to operate the systems efficiently. To lower the barrier to entry, Trimble has designed intuitive user interfaces and displays based on an Android operating system. In some regions, taxation and import restrictions hinder attempts to implement GNSS into precise farming. There are also business-related issues. For example, a smaller farm must prioritize its investments, and improving or repairing a planting machine might be more important than installing GNSS technologies.

What does VerticalPoint RTK offer?

Trimble developed VerticalPoint RTK Grade Control to help farmers mitigate issues in water management and land forming. It provides centimeter accuracy in the vertical component. This accuracy level enables the precise grading needed to provide shallow flow and slow water movement.

When using VerticalPoint RTK, the GNSS rover receives and combines data from multiple reference stations to develop precise vertical measurements. It provides high confidence and can be used for grading, levees and berms, tile applications, and ditches. For larger-scale land forming based on precise terrain mapping, machines using VerticalPoint RTK can reduce the number of passes needed to bring the land to the designed grade and shape.

Do you have any other RTK services for precision ag?

The RTK technology used in Trimble agriculture solutions is consistent with RTK across other segments (construction, surveying, mapping and more). The differences are in the application and location, where we provide a variety of receivers, user displays, machine interfaces and software to produce accurate, reliable performance. The activities can range from tillage and grading to planting, adding inputs such as fertilizer or weed control — all the way through harvest. It is just a matter of talking with the farmers to understand their operations; we can then select and integrate components to optimize the solution.

As part of this, farms using Trimble RTX correction services can choose different levels of service based on their needs. This approach enables farmers to achieve (and pay for) only the accuracy they need. For example, some basic tillage operations can use ViewPoint RTX with good results. Other applications, such as fertilizing row crops, may require the 2-centimeter accuracy provided by Trimble CenterPoint RTX corrections service.

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