GNSS at the centre of a revolution in agriculture

24/10/2017

The agriculture sector has gone through a series of evolutionary milestones, from mechanisation, through the green revolution, to precision farming. The current revolution in the agriculture sector is digital farming, in which information about weather, soil conditions and crop health is combined with network technology to allow farmers to optimise their systems and improve their productivity. In Europe, EGNSS (Galileo and EGNOS) is a key enabling technology underpinning this revolution.

Digital farming, which was the central topic of the recent CEMA Farming 4.0 Summit in Brussels,GNSS technology supports the farm of the future, helping boost the environmental sustainability and economic competitiveness of the agriculture sector describes the evolution of agriculture to become an inter-connected, knowledge-based production system that incorporates GNSS-enabled precision farming with intelligent networks and data management tools.

The use of digital technology incorporated in modern farm equipment is opening up new business models and opportunities in the agricultural sector, providing farmers with an unprecedented level of knowledge about their crops, livestock and operations and making the sector more efficient and environmentally sustainable.

Farmers quick to adopt EGNOS

In his presentation at the summit, the theme of which was ‘Moving towards connected & sustainable agriculture in Europe’, GSA Executive Director Carlo des Dorides said that the agriculture sector had been one of the first to make use of GNSS technology and that currently 80% of automated tractors were EGNOS-enabled.

He noted that the agricultural sector had gone through a series of evolutionary milestones, the most recent of which – precision farming and digital farming – are reliant on the guidance and monitoring capabilities offered by satellite technology: EGNSS and Copernicus. A recent milestone for Galileo – the market entry of a dual-frequency chipset - means that it is now even better placed to support the optimisation of farming operations.

In September this year, the chipset manufacturer Broadcom announced the entry to market of a dual-frequency chip. Dual-frequency chipsets and receivers benefit from better accuracy, ionosphere error cancellation, and faster transition from code tracking to phase tracking, among other benefits.

Galileo currently has more satellites operating in dual frequency than GPS. It also has a number of other features that can benefit the agriculture sector. “On the Open Signal, which can already be used by farmers, with single frequency Galileo was able to offer accuracy of 2.5 metres on the horizontal plane. However, with dual-frequency – as it does with EGNOS - the level of accuracy increases to sub-metre precision or 20-30 centimetres path-to-path,” des Dorides said. This level of navigational accuracy, combined with the Earth observation capabilities of Copernicus, supports real-time data analysis and in-field and inter-field optimisation in the agricultural sector, helping farmers to increase the productivity and sustainability of their operations. All of this will be complemented by a Galileo High Accuracy service by 2020, with FOC increasing the precision even more.

Watch this: EGNOS in Agriculture

Providing the viewpoint from farm equipment manufacturers, Thomas Böck, Chief Technology Officer at CLAAS, noted the importance of working with the GSA and with Galileo. He said that that there were a lot of opportunities for the industry and also for farmers themselves, in terms of increased profitability and sustainability, to be gained from this cooperation.

Matthew Foster, Vice President for Agricultural Commercial Development at CNH Industrial, noted that take-up of auto-guidance systems by farmers had been high and that the next step would be to achieve the connectivity needed to reap the benefits from all the data currently being produced.  For this to happen, and to ensure that farmers continue to adopt digital technologies, it will be necessary to have a Common Agricultural Policy that facilitates investment in precision farming.

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