Minnesota Now with Cathy Wurzer

Northern lights solar storm interrupted tractor GPS system, halting planting for Minnesota farmers

A tractor under the northern lights
A tractor on the O'Connor Family Farm in Blooming Prairie sits under the northern lights. Patrick O'Connor says he was unable to use his tractor after the solar storm responsible for the northern lights disrupted his GPS.
Photo by Tiffany Graham

Minnesotans were out in force to see the northern lights this weekend. But at the same time, several farmers were sitting frustrated in their fields as the powerful geomagnetic solar storms interfered with GPS in their planters and tractors. 404 Media first reported about the disruptions.

Patrick O’Connor in Blooming Prairie had to stop planting after he couldn’t connect to GPS. “My tractor just didn’t work,” he said. “I had some decisions I had to make.”

At first, O’Connor said he was not sure what was going on. Then he got online and saw other folks talking about GPS services not working. He called his GPS provider and there was a message saying GPS would probably not be working Friday night because of solar flares.

O’Connor plants his corn in 30 inch rows and relies on the GPS for auto street on the tractors — basically to make straight lines and plant more seeds per acre.

He posted on Facebook and started getting calls from farms all over the country dealing with the same thing. Then, the New York Times contacted him for an interview.

Fortunately, O’Connor was able to finish corn planting on Sunday and is 75 percent done with soybean planting. He’s looking forward to a few more good days of weather to wrap it up and hopefully, no more solar flares.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.

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