VERNON — The vast majority of Ontario farmers use Global Positioning System (GPS) technology in their tractors and combines and the number of users continues to rise, according to Statistics Canada’s latest farm management survey results for 2021. StatCan conducts the survey every five years as a follow up to the Census of Agriculture.
Between 2017 and 2021, Ontario field-crop farms equipped with GPS increased from 74 % to 78 %, while the national percentage held steady at 84 %. Most Ontario farmers used the technology as a tracking or guidance system.
Vernon-area crop farmer and Precision Planting dealer, Greg Millard, suggested Ontario lagged behind other provinces because of a relatively higher number of smaller operators here in comparison to GPS leaders in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. More than 95 % of prairie province farmers used GPS in the field in 2021.
“If you’re a commercial farmer, and not kind of on the hobbyist side, I think everybody’s got GPS,” he said.
Tracking and guidance is the most common use for GPS — the typical system that auto-steers the tractor to keep the machine operating in an absolutely straight line and in exactly the right place to avoid fertilizer, pesticide or seeding overlap.
“It’s keeping your swath the same width … and you’re going straight every time,” Millard explained. “As the day goes on you get tired, but now the tractor is actually steering itself. The stress of staying on the marker line when you’re running a corn planter (without GPS), you just feel a lot better at the end of the day (with GPS).”
According to StatCan, a minority of GPS users went beyond the steering function and used the technology to assist with targeted, variable fertilizer application or with yield map generation during harvest. “A lot of guys have the capability on their planters to do variable-rate seeding, but they don’t have the capability to do variable-rate fertilizer yet,” he said. “But it’s coming for sure.”
He also expects a younger generation of farmers to make actual use of the yield-map feature that’s already built into most combines.
However, for the first time in 2021, some farmers (14 % in both Canada and Ontario) used GPS combined with variable pesticide application. Millard sees particular promise in that technique, pointing out that Precision Planting is coming out with a retrofit system. As the sprayer moves across the field, cameras on the unit will automatically vary the amount of pesticide applied, depending on the number of weeds the computer “sees” on the ground below. In one recent test, a quantity of sodium glyphosate that would have normally served 100 acres instead covered 260 acres, he said.
78 % of Ontario field-crop farmers use GPS technology, mostly for tracking and guidance