Reduce Fertilizer Waste with GPS Tracking

8 Jun 2016

Only a few generations ago, you had to spread manure in order to fertilize your fields using a tractor or a shovel. In some cases, farmers would allow nature to take its course and have their livestock spread the manure themselves while they grazed in the fields.

Today, however, with the development of larger equipment and chemical fertilizers, many farmers use huge tractor spreader systems to fertilize their fields making soil the process of foil fertilization evolve more than ever.

In order to apply the right amount and type of fertilizer to every section of a farmer’s field, agronomists developed software that utilizes GPS. A few years ago, a survey showed that this evolving technology was being used by around 20 percent of Midwestern farmers. The technology is called variable rate application, according to Iowa State University’s soil fertility scientist, Antonio Mallarino. And he says even more farmers are now using it.

Not all farmers can run this sophisticated system since they don’t have the software and equipment needed; therefore, they depend on an agriculture consultant to assess their soil and turn around and program the equipment a tractor so they can apply the fertilizer.

One particular agriculture consultant, Michael McNeil, started his own agriculture company that does this type of thing. He states it allows farmers to be more accurate in how much nutrients their soil requires and allows them to save money too.

Fertilizer is not meant to go into ditches, waterways and gullies since water pollution can occur from runaway nutrients and kill the water ecosystems (which contributed to the Gulf of Mexico’s dead zone).

So, McNeil measures first and then breaks down the soil type of each farmer’s field using a geological map and takes samples of every section.

He says he wants to figure out the amount of potassium, phosphorous, magnesium, calcium, sulfur, zinc and other micronutrients required to grow decent crop the following year.

He sends the samples of soil off to a lab to have them analyzed to see which nutrients are already contained in the soil. He then programs that data into the software and calculates the amount of nutrients the soil will need for the following year’s crop. He then uses the same software that is connected to a GPS that runs the machine and applies the fertilizer. This software, without manual labor, guides the tractor around the fields and dispenses the right amount of nutrients to each section.

GPS tracking for farming is part of a trend known as precision agriculture. It harnesses science and reduces waste and inefficiencies, ultimately saving money.

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