Solar flares disrupt machinery guidance

The geomagnetic storm that brought a beautiful weekend northern lights display also brought trouble for farmers who rely on GPS machinery guidance. 

John Eron farms in central Wisconsin, and tells Brownfield there were a lot of wandering planters and sprayers because the solar flares interfered with the Wide Area Augmentation System or WAAS satellites. “Anybody running and getting signals from WAAS, especially with that solar activity, it was enough to shut down the systems or there were a lot of times we’d be out there and we’d actually see several feet, up to ten to twenty feet deviation from where that true line is supposed to be at.”

Eron says he couldn’t rely on GPS when following the planter with the sprayer. “I shut off all of the automated functions for auto-boom shut off and stuff like that and just went old-school. I shut everything down and lined up the chrome on the center of the sprayer and sprayed that way. I had to start counting rows again.”

Eron says several area farmers parked their planters because they had removed the old marker arms, which makes it very hard to plant straight rows without GPS guidance.

He says the farmers that were using Real Time Kinematic or RTK guidance were not as greatly affected because it uses a base station to radio coordinates to tractors and other machinery instead of getting locations directly from satellites.

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