MFA precision agronomy manager speaks out on LightSquared and GPS controversy
Controversy around LightSquared’s bid for wireless spectrum continues to grow with plenty of politics and high-jinx in the mix. But MFA’s Precision Agronomy Manager, Rick Greene, went to Washington D.C. last month in hopes to provide some clear thoughts to Congress about what the deal could mean for agriculture and other industries that have an established use of GPS as a means for increased efficiency. Greene and many others in agriculture worry that the terrestrial-based system LightSquared hopes to employ has potential to disrupt GPS signal, rendering existing GPS equipment ineffective.
Testifying on behalf of the Agricultural Retailers Association, Greene told the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Small Business that GPS has become integral a wide swath of industries:
Fleet vehicles use GPS for logistical tracking to minimizing fuel consumption. Tractors drive themselves with 1-inch accuracy to minimize overlap. Planters and sprayers turn off individual sections automatically to reduce over-application of inputs. On-the-go sensors detect how much nitrogen a plant requires. River levees are surveyed and corrected in two-thirds the time it takes traditional surveyors. Aerial applicators vary nitrogen rates on the fly to reduce run-off and increase nutrient uptake. Irrigation systems vary water rates by soil characteristics to reduce water waste…and the list goes on. We would not be able to perform any of these efficient management practices without high-accuracy GPS.
Jess Lowenberg-DeBoer with Purdue University did a study back in 2004 on a 1,800-acre model farm and found that a farmer will decrease his hours of operation by 17 percent if he uses high accuracy GPS. This decrease includes fuel, maintenance, labor hours, and inputs like seed, pesticides and fertilizer. Times are changing and the producer needs to be more efficient in order to combat global competition. Bruce Erickson’s, director of cropping systems management with Purdue University, study on Economics and Adoption of Precision Farming Technology. From 2002 commodity prices are up 350 percent, seed prices are up 266 percent and fuel and fertilizer prices are up 270 percent. Efficiency and increased productivity is the key to their survival in this global market.
The GPS industry has close to 1 million high accuracy GPS receivers used in agriculture, construction, survey, oil & gas, utilities and government operations. It will take 10 to 15 years to complete a normal replacement cycle and affects up to $10 billion in equipment. Even if the JAVAD filter (which costs $300 to $800) works, implanting it to the one million receivers will cost $300 to $800 million which doesn’t include additional personnel, installation and down-time. It’s like saying that because Chevy has an all-electric car on the market we can shut down every gas station in the US next year or all analog TVs need to be replaced the day the digital switch was turned on.
Greene concluded by saying, “LightSquared must not be allowed to broadcast their signal in the upper or lower bands of GPS until a feasible and economical solution is found. It is the accuracy of GPS that makes the technology important to agriculture, and farmers should not be expected to live with a disruption in their service as a result of LightSquared’s actions.”
Other points made by Greene during his testimony included:
• Satellite wireless broadband will not interfere with GPS. LightSquared terrestrial high powered signal in the MSS band will interfere with GPS.
• The GPS industry needs to have the upper MSS band off the table.
• High accuracy GPS will be needed if we are going to feed a global economy and preserve the environment.
• If JAVAD filters work on all GPS, LightSquared should pay for the filters and installation costs.
See related stories here.