GPS Farm Technology Can Pay

Input cost savings add up with new technology.

Global Positioning System technology can help farmers enhance profitability, according to research by Kansas State University agricultural economists Terry Kastens and Kevin Dhuyvetter.

The economists have found that GPS autoguidance systems can aid farmers in reducing overlap, which cuts costs. But, the big benefits are what individual boom/section controls can bring to field headlands – those acreage edges where tractors turn to head in the opposite direction.

"By definition, overlap is more common there than anywhere else, and overlap means covering the same area more than once," Dhuyvetter says. "You end up farming more acres than you actually have in the field. That increases both machinery and input costs. It also can reduce the yields there."

In earlier research, the economists found that costs are the biggest factor in deciding whether producers fall into the highest or lowest one-third on farm profits. The lion's share of farm costs is machinery, making that an obvious area in which to try to improve efficiencies.

In analyzing whether autoguidance and boom controls could cut headland costs, the researchers quickly found that an array of farm-specific factors can affect the results. So, they studied and compared such factors as field size and shape, as well as total farm size and farmer efficiency in manually operating a seeder's section controls.

"We found that for many farms – particularly those with big cropping machinery that's farming oddly shaped fields – GPS technologies could yield extremely high returns," Kastens says. "Often, it was just a matter of how quickly the new GPS machinery would pay for itself."

The team has developed a computer program to help farmers assess the technology's potential for their own operations. It's available on the Web at www.agmanager.info (search for: KSU-GPSguidance.xls).

The instructional visuals from their Risk and Profit Conference session are also on the Web. They're No. 14 at www.agmanager.info/events/risk_profit/2007/Papers.asp.

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