I’ve been covering agriculture for many years now, but I continue to be amazed by the ways that farmers have embraced the latest technology in their quest to efficiently increase food production while protecting the environment.

The old image of a stuck-in-the-mud farmer stubbornly clinging to the old ways couldn’t be farther from today’s reality. Most of today’s farmers are way out on the cutting edge, adapting their operations to new technologies, from biotechnology to robotics, a whole lot faster than their city cousins.

A good example is global positioning systems or GPS.

For most of us GPS is a cool accessory in our cars or on our smartphones. We use it to find a restaurant an unfamiliar city or maybe a road to avoid during construction. It’s handy, but hardly essential to our everyday lives.

For most farmers, though, GPS is not a high-tech toy. It’s become an essential tool that farmers use to precisely plant, harvest and even steer their tractors, combines and other equipment.

Using GPS signals from satellites more than 13 miles in space, today’s farmers can operate with a precision that their parents and grandparents could only dream about. This means that the right amount of fertilizers and herbicides go exactly where they are supposed to go. It reduces costs, increases efficiency and significantly reduces agriculture’s environmental footprint.

By using GPS and other tools to efficiently produce more food from acres in Iowa and other states in the American Heartland, farmers reduce the pressure to produce more in developing, and often environmentally sensitive, areas of the world.

GPS for farmers, and for everybody else in America, could soon be at risk from a proposed satellite-based internet system. Farmers are worried that the proposed internet system, called LightSquared, would interfere with the GPS satellite signals because it would use a spectrum too close to the one used by GPS. Sensitive GPS receivers, they fear, would be bombarded by stronger signals from the LightSquared system.

A roster of a newly-formed group concerned about the interference from the proposed service, called Coalition to Save Our GPS, reads like a who’s-who of American business giants and leading safety agencies. It includes the biggest shippers, FedEx and UPS, airlines and even the New York City Fire Department.

And farmers are right with them working to protect GPS, the essential precision agriculture tool. Because when you take on the monumental task of feeding an increasingly hungry world while protecting the environment, farmers know they need the best technology they can get.

Written by Dirck Steimel
Dirck is the news services manager for Iowa Farm Bureau.