Accuracy is the life blood of precision farming. Real Time Kinematic (RTK) navigation used by many precision farmers has proven to be an effective tool to assure the highest level of accuracy for their field operations.
But even this tested and proven technology carries some disadvantages.
Base stations are typically equipped to cover between 2 and maximally 8 miles and have to be moved every time the producer moves beyond this range.
On top of that, they have to be set up and reinitialized at the base station. Likewise, producers have to be sure they're equipped with 12-volt power to run the station.
In these days of tight budgets and time constraints, this often proves to be an unwelcome expense and time commitment for many producers.
"If you could avoid this extra concern, its one less thing to worry about from a management prospective," says Dr. John Fulton (pictured right), an Alabama Cooperative Extension System precision farming specialist and Auburn University associate professor of biosystems engineering.
On top of that, this technology is expensive.
"If you buy an RTK guidance system, you're talking anywhere from a $32,000 to $42,000 investment," Fulton says.
Producers must factor in how readily this purchase ultimately will pay for itself.
Fulton, who spoke recently at the Precision Agriculture and Field Crops Conference in Atmore, Ala., is urging producers to consider the values of another, less expensive application known as Continuously Operating Reference Station (CORS).
Coordinated by the National Geodetic Survey of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, CORS is operated in Alabama by the state Department of Transportation.
In addition to providing precise positioning 24 hours a day, CORS also provides the vastly extended ranges many producers, especially of large operations, often so desperately need.
Equally important, though, is its cheaper cost.
"It's worth switching if only for the upfront costs," Fulton says.
Depending on your circumstances, it typically amounts to a 40 to 60 percent reduction in upfront costs alone.
What could be secured years down the road with RTK becomes almost immediately affordable and achievable with CORS, says Fulton, adding that many peanut farmers throughout southern Alabama had already recovered their investments and enjoyed other advantages through the adoption of CORS.
Fulton says Alabama producers are especially fortunate, because CORS stations are operating across most of the state.
In fact, CORS is available in most row-crop-intensive regions of the state, particularly north and south Alabama as well as the region around Birmingham.
Alabama is not alone. Fulton estimates that between 12 and 15 other states operate CORS on a wide scale, benefitting not only farmers but also other facets of the economy, which require ground-based signals to ensure high accuracy of GPS-based equipment.
CORS can improve reliability of the needed correction data for RTK systems. Experts say the technology also may prove crucial to farmers confronted with impending natural calamities such as early spring freezes or autumn hurricanes that requires 24/7 operation of equipment to beat the approaching calamity.
However, the CORS corrective signal is acquired via the Internet, a possible disadvantage for some producers.
"So as you travel around Alabama, there are some areas where cell phone coverage is not good," Fulton says. In those cases, CORS may not be an option.
However, in cases where cell phone service is readily available, he says there is a compelling case for switching to CORS.
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