Topcon technologist, Craig England has confirmed the growing use of Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) technologies within the tillage sector.

Speaking on the most recent edition of the Tillage Edge podcast, he specifically highlighted the developing role of these new technologies within the potato sector.

“Normally the most experienced driver, or the farm owner himself, is doing the ridging of the potatoes,” England explained.

“This job has to be done straight and the ridges have to be even. We find that if we add a full auto steer system with Real Time Kinematic, or RTK technology, a less experienced operator can drive the tractor.

“The end result is a lovely even ridge bed. Meanwhile, the farm owner can get on with other, more important jobs.”

Access to global satellite systems

According to England, all GPS systems have access to a number of American, Russian and Japanese satellite systems.

“They will deliver an accuracy down to 30cm. Here in Europe we also have access to another satellite system called EGNOS. This will deliver an accuracy down to 15cm,” England explained.

He added that a Precision Point Positioning (PPP) correction system can deliver further accuracy.

“This is delivered courtesy of a single satellite that is located permanently above the equator,” he said.

“PPP can only be accessed on the back of a subscription-based payment service. Depending on their level of spend, farmers can secure accuracies in the range 4–8cm.

“This specific satellite is fixed in a single position at all times.”

GPS signals

The Topcon technologist confirmed two types of RTK systems.

The first is a base station, which is sending out a radio signal. Generally, this only works within a 5–10km radius.

The farmer would bring the base station out to the field and set it up on a tripod. This would then talk to the tractor, providing 2cm accuracy for the required field work.

“This was the original version of the technology, which has been superseded by RTK NTRIP,” said England.

“This option is now growing in popularity here in Ireland. Using it required the operator to place a sim card into the GPS system on the tractor.

“This is then talking to a website, which is in communication with the nearest base station on the island.

“All these base stations have a 50-mile radius, covering the whole island. And it is this process that delivers the 2cm accuracy that is required in the field.

“This is a much more convenient solution. As long as the machine operator has a phone signal, an RTK service will be available within seconds,” he concluded.