The resolution of a dispute regarding satellite communications leaves California farmers and ranchers concerned about the operation of global positioning systems they use for precision agriculture applications such as planting seed, applying crop protection materials and harvesting.
The question involves the satellite spectrum, and whether a broadband company’s proposed new wireless network will interfere with GPS systems. Virginia-based LightSquared received a conditional waiver from the Federal Communications Commission to use the satellite spectrum for a national wireless network, but preliminary tests indicated its network would interfere with satellite transmission to GPS devices.
“California Farm Bureau Federation (CFBF) and American Farm Bureau Federation are working to ensure there is no interference with GPS receivers prior to granting LightSquared permission to operate its high-powered base stations,” says Rayne Pegg, assistant manager of the CFBF National Affairs and Research Division.
“Farm Bureau believes that high-speed broadband services, like the potential service offered by Light-Squared, have great potential to bring economic development, better education and improved health services to rural America, but not at the expense of losing GPS.”
AFBF Director of Congressional Relations, R.J. Karney, says to solve the interference problem, Light-Squared has announced several different solutions, including operating within the lower 10-megahertz portion of its spectrum and operating at a lower power than permitted under its existing FCC authorization.
“LightSquared says there will be no interference with about 99.5 percent of GPS users just by doing this alone,” Karney says. “Unfortunately for our members, we’re that remaining 0.5 percent. Now, LightSquared is saying that it can come up with a technical fix to avoid interference with high-precision GPS by creating a filter. You can put the filters on the GPS units and that will stop the interference.”
The House Small Business Commit-tee held a hearing recently on the potential impact of LightSquared on small business users of GPS. It focused on the impact on GPS use by farmers, as well as construction contractors, surveyors and general aviation.
AFBF has told Congress that the FCC and an independent technical company “must complete comprehensive and rigorous testing on all proposed technical fixes to ensure there is no interference between broadband and GPS signals.”
Producers who adopt precision-agriculture methods rely on GPS for accurate mapping of field boundaries, roads and irrigation systems; for precision planting; and for targeting the application of fertilizer and of chemicals that combat weeds and crop diseases. GPS also allows farmers to work in their fields despite low-visibility conditions.
GPS Systems Vital To Farmers
Rice producer Josh Sheppard of Biggs, Calif., whose operation consists of 3,200 acres, says his family farm uses GPS technology in every aspect of its operation.
“GPS technology was adopted early in California, and it has given us an advantage over other areas for our high yields,” Sheppard says. “So if we don’t have GPS to rely on, we’re going to have a situation.”
The issue has been recognized as “a serious threat to the reliability and viability of the global positioning system” by the Coalition to Save Our GPS, which includes a number of national agricultural groups.
Producer Don Cameron of Helm, Calif., who currently serves on the board of directors of the National Cotton Council of America, says that he is concerned about the effect the satellite-spectrum issue could have on California agriculture.
“We use GPS-equipped tractors for many aspects of our farming, from precision row spacing to installation of multi-year drip irrigation systems in our field crops,” Cameron says. “Any disruption of this technology would create chaos with our current precision farming practices.”
“It is important that the cost of re-solving this issue not be passed to farmers and ranchers through higher GPS or equipment costs,” Pegg says.
This article was provided by the California Farm Bureau. For more information, go to www.cfbf.com.