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GPS technology will continue to transform agriculture

October 6, 2020  - By

By Al Savage, John Deere

Headshot: Al Savage

Al Savage, John Deere

While GPS technology originally started as a product of the space race, it has transformed in recent decades to be used in a variety of different industries. Its positioning and navigation capabilities make many everyday tasks easier to achieve. One industry that has continuously benefitted from this technology is agriculture.

The world’s population is expected to reach nearly 10 billion people by 2050, effectively increasing global food demand by 50%, according to the United Nations. To meet these demands, global agricultural productivity will need to increase by 1.75% a year.

Currently, productivity is only growing at an average rate of 1.63%, according to the Global Harvest Initiative. Precision agriculture and advanced technologies, such as automation, computer vision, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are already on the farm helping farmers meet this demand, and GPS technology plays an especially significant and transformative role in making this happen.


The development of automated driving and self-driving tractors has changed the game for farming by allowing technology to drive the machines with great accuracy, while farmers focus on other value-added tasks.

Over time, that technology further developed in conjunction with other technology on the farm, such as GPS. Having a reliable way to keep equipment from running over crops is incredibly important to farmers.

The GPS technology we use at John Deere is accurate within centimeters and complements the computer vision and sensors within the tractors with precise positioning in the field. This allows the farmer to drive faster without running over and damaging the crop. It also means farmers no longer cover the same ground twice.

Other technology has also been installed on farming machines to provide added value, especially when paired with GPS. When used alongside sensors, GPS offers the potential to enable real-time data collection. Sensors throughout the field let farmers know things such as where each seed was planted or environmental conditions while spraying nutrients on their crops.

Historical data from the farmer and garnered through the technology are turned into maps that, when combined with real-time information from the sensors, enable farmers to have even more accurate and precise information about what is happening next in the field, to ultimately optimize operations. This is critical as almost every job that gets done on the farm has to be completed in short time windows.

Spatial intelligence provides a more vivid representation of what is happening in the field at all times so the farmer can make real-time decisions and plan for the future.

Tasks such as tilling, planting, spraying and harvesting are easier when farmers have a more precise way to track their position. GPS technology, working in conjunction with computer vision cameras and sensors, allows crops to be distributed more evenly across a field and enables seeds to be planted at exactly the correct spacing and position to maximize yield.
All of these tasks boost productivity and sustainability on the farm by providing farmers with the data to make informed, sustainable decisions.

Photo: John Deere

Photo: John Deere

Machines Talking to Each Other

Technology on farms has evolved to the point where machines can wirelessly communicate to each other in the field. This concept, known as machine-to-machine (M2M) communication, is also linked closely to GPS technology. Enabling machines to know where in the field another machine is and what work it has done in real time means the machines work as a team to get the job done in the most efficient way possible with no overlap. Coordination among machines helps farmers avoid redundant effort and the overuse of valuable inputs, which allows for more efficient use of resources and unlocks the potential of automation.

As the agriculture community continues to work to meet the rising demands for food, fuel and fiber, GPS technology will play a key role to help farmers make more food more efficiently, sustainably and with greater consistency in results. This not only benefits the farmer’s business, but it impacts every single person in the world.

Al Savage is the StarFire Network manager at John Deere.

About the Author: Al Savage

Al Savage is the StarFire Network manager at John Deere.