Utilizing satellite imagery to help growers be more successful has been around for quite some time. Recently, the level of sophistication in the imagery and use in agriculture has improved dramatically. There are a number of imagery providers powering new tools for growers. Let’s explore two of these and also hear the USDA assessment of how accurate these satellite images are at forecasting crop yields and production.
Successful Farming recently posted a piece titled, “EOS Land Viewer Provides Up-To-Date Images of Farm Fields”. The gist of the piece is about the EOS Land Viewer as a user-friendly online tool that equips you with up-to-date images of farm fields from a number of satellites.
In this article it mentioned three primary uses for growers.
1. Phenological Observations
Users can observe the state of crops during major phenophases. The coordinates of target areas are permanently stored in the My AOI list, and users can quickly return to a specific location.
The Band Combination tool allows you to visualize images in the different band syntheses, emphasize the location of agricultural land, analyze its structure, identify areas of healthy and damaged vegetation, and build maps of fields heterogeneity.
The repeat interval of satellite imagery varies from one day to 16 days. EOS Land Viewer data allows you to build a regular time series of satellite images and calculate vegetation indices on their basis.
Pseudo-colored maps of VI allow users to detect areas of healthy and damaged vegetation in order to identify arid, waterlogged, and saline territories. The Comparison Slider tool is used to build different-time maps of VI, which provide continuous monitoring of a crop’s development during the growing season and help detect changes quickly.
3. Rapid Response
Satellite survey data is a mean of identifying crop damages, which are a result of hurricanes, floods, droughts, fires, or technology issues. EOS Land Viewer allows you to view damaged fields and calculate how extensive the damage is in that area.
Satellite images provided via the EOS Land Viewer web interface can be used as input data to detect agricultural land boundaries, classify crops, forecast yields, and control the targeted use of ag lands.
At the end of the piece it suggested to learn more, visit eos.com/agriculture/. The information provided on this site was underwhelming.
Shannon Yokley of Brownfield Ag News conducted an interview with their new partner Encirca Services. T.C. Huffman stressed how Encirca’s new satellite service would allow the grower to be more sophisticated in their scouting. This is very similar to point 3 above. Additionally a crop stress index is a component of their latest offering. The story begins
Satellite Imagery helps farmers quickly identify scouting areas across the entire farm throughout the entire growing season.
“It’s going to help me be a lot more efficient with my scouting” explains Huffman. “Now when I’m going out into a large field I know what areas to walk into to see the differences. I can be more proactive at finding things going on in the field.”
Audio of the interview can be heard below. You can skip past the infomercial and begin listening to the most interesting part of the interview beginning at 1:48.
There remains one aspect of satellite imagery that has not yield evolved to the level of sophistication such that it can be relied on solely. Crop yield and production estimation cannot yet be accurately determined exclusively by satellite imagery.
AgUpdate ran a story written by Jeff Wilson of Bloomberg News titled “What satellites can’t see: U.S. crop forecasters walk and learn”, where this shortcoming was analyzed further.
For decades, government satellites have been taking detailed photographs of crops around the world that are now being tapped by traders like Cargill Inc. to gain an edge in global grain markets.
But the U.S. Department of Agriculture — the benchmark in forecasting domestic crops — says the images by themselves still can’t be relied upon to predict annual corn, wheat or soybean harvests. Instead, the government’s main source of information remains farmer surveys and random field samples.
“Satellites are not advanced enough to differentiate crop acres yet, so there is a loss of precision,” said Seth Meyer, the chairman of the World Outlook Board, the USDA agency responsible for world crop forecasts. “This technology is going to get better, but right now it’s just one tool in our forecasting toolbox.”
Getting accurate assessments of major U.S. crops valued at more than $100 billion last year is a recurring challenge for traders, consumers and farmers. Crop conditions can change with the weather over the long growing season, so any early forecasts may be far off the mark when harvest rolls around.
Some scientists expected satellite images to eventually make the job easier. The U.S. has been taking pictures from space since the 1970s to track everything from the weather to troop movements. But it wasn’t until the last few years that advances in digital technology and computing power made those billions of images more useful in crop forecasting.
There are good reasons for growers to consider satellite imagery tools for this growing season. However, satellite imagery cannot yet accurately predict overall crop production and yield. No doubt improvements will be forthcoming in this endeavor and maybe even faster to than Seth Meyer expects.
Image Courtesy AgUpdate