2016 is likely to be the year of agri-tech for remote sensing. Its potential has been highlighted for some time, but last year its call was loud and clear.
Agri-tech is the use of technology to improve agriculture production in terms of yield, efficiency and profitability. With a growing global population the need to become more effective and sustainable food producers is obvious, and technology can assist in terms of robotics, biotechnology, navigation, communication, etc. However, itâ€™s opportunities offered by remote sensing thatâ€™s most exciting to us – of course, weâ€™re probably biased!
Remote sensingÂ has a wide range of applications for agriculture that range from mapping the underlying soil and crop plus the monitoring of invasive species through to defining seed density optimisation, irrigation management, harvest weather forecasting, yield estimation and long term land change / land use modelling. Essentially, we can offer support from planting to plating!
Despite this potential, uptake within the agricultural sector has been low. A survey of farmers by London Economics / the Satellite Applications Catapult last summer identified barriers that included cost, small-scale justification, reliable mobile / internet signal, lack of software to view data, lack of knowledge and the lack of proven benefits.
So with all of these issues, why are we saying agri-tech will grow in 2016? There are three good reasons:
Benefits Examples â€“ Case studies with concrete examples of the usage of remote sensing are being published. For example, NASA and Applied Geosolutions, worked together using Landsat 8 and MODIS data to examine temperature, greenness, leaf moisture and surface water. This allowed them to develop rice crop management plans, particularly surrounding irrigation, improving both harvest forecasts and actual yields.
Copernicus Sentinel â€“ I know weâ€™ve said this before, but itâ€™s worth saying again, this is a game changer. Both Sentinel-1 and Sentinel-2 data have signals that can be related to vegetation phenology, i.e. how plants change over time. As this data is free, it should allow companies to offer farmers products and services that are not cost prohibitive. Also, as the follow-on missions are launched then the frequency of data coverage will increase â€“ particularly important for optical sensors where clouds can get in the way. Pixalytics has a Sentinel-2 vegetation product in test, which has already been applied to Landsat and very high resolution data, so itâ€™s an area weâ€™re looking to develop further â€“ the image shows a Landsat-8 image processed over land using a Normalised Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) based algorithm.
Other Data – In June the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will be making over 8,000 data sets freely available that should cover information such as soil and crop types for fields all over the country. It will provide a wealth of information for farmers to understand what crops they should be growing in which fields to maximise their yields. In addition, the UKâ€™s National Biodiversity Network offers air quality and river level readings.
Taken together these elements offer new opportunities for SMEâ€™s to get involved and develop products that will offer real benefits to farmers, both large and small, and will overcome the barriers to them utilising agri-tech. For the right company, with the right idea and right implementation then 2016 will be a high yield year!
If you are interesting in agri-tech and would like to talk to us about what can be done, and what we could offer then please get in touch.