Auto-steer technology is driving peanut farmers to higher crop yields and bigger profit margins.

George Vellidis, a researcher on the Tifton Campus of the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, reached this conclusion following a two-year study in 2010-11.

Vellidis and his research team tested the on-board computer system for tractors on a private farm.

Auto-steer systems use GPS technology to help farmers guide their tractors through fields. For peanut farmers, this means more precise harvesting and fewer peanuts left in the ground.

The study was conducted in south Georgia on one farmer’s 180-acre peanut operation — 12 acres were tested in 2010 and 25 acres the following year. The test farmer saw substantial yield increases when using auto-steer to plant and invert peanuts compared to conventional methods.

Auto-steer out-performed conventional methods by 516 pounds per acre in 2010 and 439 pounds per acre in 2011.

Vellidis said the farmer would have achieved an economic gain of $27,851 in 2010 and $37,540 in 2011 if auto-steer had been used on his entire peanut acreage either of those years. The difference in economic gain was mostly a result of differences in peanut prices for those two years.

“GPS guidance of farm machinery has been adopted by increasingly larger segments of the farming community over the past decade because of the inherent gains in efficiency that it provides,” Vellidis said.

So how does it work? As the tractor is driven in a field, auto-steer gathers signals from a GPS and steers the tractor. Auto-steer creates parallel paths, which is ideal for farmers when planting and inverting peanuts. Auto-steer also enables the tractor to follow the exact same centerline created during planting when inverting the peanuts.