Challenges to Adoption

Seitz and Oliveira believe that the advantages to using GNSS technology in agribusiness today are game-changing and robust, and that they will develop further over time.

“I see more automation in machine control and more automation in data movement in the future,” Seitz says. “This is driven by the need for efficiency at the primary producer, [farmer] level”.

These efficiencies include the substantial reductions in the use of expensive fuel, seeds, and fertilizer that result from using precision techniques to monitor fields and automate the steering of farming equipment. Environmental impacts arising from over-application of pesticides also decrease with implementation of precision agricultural technology through the reduction of these inputs.

Oliveira observes that GNSS has a history of being used in agriculture for auto-steering, but now it is being used with more robustness and precision. This is important for the farm tasks that there are nowadays-guidance, section control-and also those ahead, he says. “More use of real-time sensors, telemetry, and autonomous systems are coming, and they rely on very good quality GNSS solutions.”

However, rates of adoption of precision agricultural technology in general, and GNSS-enabled precision agricultural technology in particular, remain surprisingly low-even in the United States-considering the potential benefits. According to a 2011 United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) study that analyzes rates of adoption over the 10 preceding years, use of GNSS technology remains below 25 percent on all planted acreage in the United States.

One of the most significant barriers to adoption has to do with the complexity of the technology, the difficulty of explaining to farmers how the equipment works, and the material benefits investment in GNSS-enabled farming equipment will bring.

From another perspective, however, that could mean a large, untapped market remains for precision ag products.

Oliveira and Seitz believe that precision farming is becoming less scale-dependent as the price of the technology has dropped to the point where the return on investment (ROI) for even small operations can justify the cost.

Today Stara has precision farming technologies and machines that can fit to any size of farm or customer, Oliveira says. The company offers products for the small 100-hectare (250-acre) farmer-for example, a small, variable rate Twister 1500 APS double-disc hydraulic spreader, with Topper 4500 for pass-to-pass GNSS correction-and also for the big 40,000-hectare farmer, such as Hercules 5.0 self-propelled seed spreaders with nitrogen (N) sensors, autosteering, and RTK corrections for traffic control.

The long-standing relationship with Stara has seen successive generations of NovAtel technology incorporated into the Brazilian company's products. For example, The Topper 4500 originally used the NovAtel OEMV-1G GNSS receiver and evolved to the OEM615 GNSS receiver with dual-frequency GLIDE technology. With real-time nitrogen sensing and variable-rate application, a farmer can produce yield increases from five to eight percent compared with normal manual-rate controllers, he says, which “makes the investment pay by itself in just one harvest, for example, if he seeds around 500 hectares of corn.”

Having started out in agriculture himself, Seitz observes that farmers are “fiercely independent agribusinessmen. They operate a highly capital-intensive business with razor-thin margins.

'They have no room for error and need to use technology wherever they can to improve efficiency and their bottom line,” he adds. “I think this exists for farmers all around the world”.

Drawing from his personal experience, Seitz says that, “In the highly technical world of precision agriculture it helps to understand how we need to take something so technical and turn it into something that is simple and effective to use at the farmer level. It is a very complex problem and not easy to understand without experience at all levels in the business.”

NovAtel's depth of experience and knowledge in agriculture and its ability to partner closely with customers over the long-term design and production cycle help bridge the gap between leading-edge GNSS technology and everyday agribusiness needs.