There’s a growing threat to agriculture that could impact us all. It has to do with precision GPS -- an invaluable technology for modern production. Unfortunately, the federal government is considering a proposal that would undermine this important technology.
The average American farmer feeds roughly 155 people today, compared to fewer than 26 when I was born. Increased efficiencies come from enhanced agronomic practices, improved inputs (including seed and crop protection products), and advances in technology.
The right product applied or field operations performed, at the right time, in the right location, is critical to maximizing efficiency and productivity.
Precision agriculture utilizes yield monitors, auto-steering systems, variable rate application technologies, and other “high-tech stuff” to help service providers and producers in their farming operations. What ties it all together is knowing a precise location. That’s where precision GPS comes in.
A company called LightSquared is attempting to build a new ground-based network of communication towers as part of a plan to expand broadband service nationwide. While a worthy goal, it plans to operate at a frequency very close to that used by GPS satellites. That’s a problem.
There has been quite a debate in Washington regarding the impact on GPS users. Experts have testified at Federal Communications Commission hearings, including folks who designed, built, or use the GPS system, confirming there is a big problem with the LightSquared plan.
Because these ground-based towers transmit at a stronger power than GPS satellites, their transmissions interfere with precision GPS equipment for many miles around each tower.
Can some future technology be developed that allows both systems to co-exist on the same or nearby radio frequencies?
Perhaps, although I do not believe it exists today. Any solution likely will require precision GPS users to add or replace equipment, and at a significant cost.
Like most cellular phone users, I would be in favor of improved coverage, but not if it means either interference with GPS or increased costs for users. If the government allows LightSquared to go forward, then the government should ensure that all costs of replacing or retrofitting GPS devices is paid for by LightSquared, not GPS users.
We all appreciate both modern conveniences (like cell phones) and abundant, inexpensive, and high-quality food. Any attempt at a solution to the LightSquared interference problem that doesn’t benefit all involved isn’t much of a solution and should not be permitted to proceed.
Sid Parks is GROWMARK’s manager of precision farming. His e-mail address is email@example.com