Corn field with example of precision data overlaidThe reliance on precision farming continues to grow, with GPS being used on 70% of U.S. planted cropland. According to the USDA’s biennial farm computer report, producers in the top corn, wheat, soybean and hog states are twice as likely as farmers in smaller-volume states to use precision agriculture.

While this technology promises efficiency gains, potential risks have become apparent due to solar storms that interfered with GPS signals in early May. Producers reported a wide array of impacts from intermittent interference to equipment shutdowns. Kansas State University Professor Terry Griffin explained that the cost depends on how long the equipment was sidetracked. Downtime during critical planting season comes with yield penalties and reduced revenue. Losses could be a few thousand dollars for a half-day delay.

In the spring the losses are typically associated with planting delays. In the fall, interference with GPS equipment could result in lost data. This could include data for yield maps. This loss is more difficult to calculate. Griffin said the next generation of autonomy is being developed around machine vision, artificial intelligence and expert systems for guidance to avoid risks posed by GPS outages.

Read more about the risk to precision farming posed by solar storms here.