GPS and RTK: The technology behind those perfect rows

Published on: 08:24AM Oct 01, 2010

Anthony Transou

As combines role through fields this fall, operators will be on the lookout for a number of pitfalls. But across millions of acres, crooked rows are no longer one of them.
Thanks to Global Positioning System (GPS) data, the power of real-time kinematics (RTK) and the magic of auto-steer, row crops like corn, soybeans and cotton can be planted in perfectly straight rows. Or the rows smoothly hug the curves of a waterway or side hill. That same technology, combined with correctly calibrated yield monitors, provides a pretty accurate picture of crop performance.  
Here is a reminder of the incredible technology behind those perfect rows. 
  • GPS refers to a series of space-based satellites that provide precise location information for anywhere on the globe that can receive those satellite signals. 
  • RTK technology reads and processes those GPS satellite signals using a land-based reference station and the receiver on your tractor or combine to correctly identify a given location within an inch or two. 
  • That receiver sends streaming information to a computer in the cab, telling it exactly where you’ve been and where you need to go.
  • Then the auto-steer program physically directs the tractor to where you need to go.
The result: those straight rows that you were so proud of last spring, and that make it easier to combine this fall. Cool stuff.