How Satellites Are Making Agriculture More Efficient

Did you know 37% of our planet is used strictly for agriculture? Maintaining and improving our efficiency in agriculture is one of the most overlooked challenges that humanity will face in the coming decades. Why? As the population continues to grow, much of the world will depend more and more on effective agriculture to output more resources that the world relies on.

The goal is to make farming as sustainable as possible, so we can minimize the inputs, maximize the outputs, and eliminate as much waste as we can. One way that this is achievable is by leveraging satellite data to maximize efficiency on farms. I know what you’re thinking. “How the heck do satellites have anything to do with improving the future of agriculture”? The answer is, quite a lot.

Since farms are ultimately fields of crops that stretch for hectares long, it’s challenging for farmers to get an accurate handle on the overall health of their farm. They could be applying too much fertilizer and it would be challenging for them to catch that error. This is one use case where satellites are useful. Satellites have opened up the idea of precision farming to farmers and consumers alike. Let’s back up and answer, what is precision farming?

What Is Precision Farming?

Precision farming is a method that uses a data-driven feedback loop to determine how to optimize the farm to the highest extent. Through observing, analyzing, and reacting to short-term experiments, farmers can optimize their farm’s efficiency by applying precision farming practices to it.

Almost every aspect of agriculture is up to be optimized with the advent of precision farming. Some benefits that farmers experience when they switch to precision farming is boosting the economic advantage of their farm, reducing their farm’s environmental risk, and making sure their crops are getting the perfect amount of fertilizer. Any excess resource used in precision farming is a resource wasted. It’s all about efficiency.

UAVs And Satellites

Unmanned aerial aircrafts, or UAVs, were seen as taking the lead to bring precision farming to fruition, but over the last several years, satellites have taken the lead. Satellites promise large-scale imagery of every inch of your farm, on a weekly basis. This is a value proposition that UAVs couldn’t match, and satellites are only getting stronger. Satellites have some limitations, such as quite low spatial resolution and informational content of the data, or cloud cover that can significantly affect a quality of satellite imagery.

Geosys, Planet Labs and Astro Digital are few of the many satellite providers that are trying to provide farmers the ability to make data-driven decisions about how they run their farm.

Benefits Of Using Satellites to Monitor Farms

Target Your Scouting Efforts

With weekly images being taken and analyzed by a satellite every week, farmers are able to detect trouble areas, and optimize the scouting efforts in a much more targeted way. The most popular remote sensing method to identify problematic regions is called NDVI. NDVI helps to detect a plant vigor that characterizes the health and strength of a plant.

Optimize Use of Nitrogen Based on Variable Rate Application

Based on the biomass assessment during multiple crop seasons, several satellite imagery companies provide prescription maps to optimize nitrogen application. These VRA prescription maps can be uploaded to the agri machinery to increase input efficiency and field productivity. However, the accuracy and reliability of the nitrogen detection in various crops still need be validated due to biological and environmental complexity.

Optimize Watering Schedules

Crops need the right amount of water to flourish, and anything extra is a waste and potentially harmful to the crops. With a satellite, make sure all your crops are getting the right amount of water.

Identify Field Performance and Benchmark Fields

Farmers are able to monitor field performance on a weekly basis using satellite imagery and additional information, such as weather, precipitation, etc. It allows growers to compare farm fields on a large scale, and identify fields performing below average to implement treatment actions.

Run Experiments on a Large Scale

The goal for any farmer is to increase their crop yield while minimizing the inputs. Until recently, one could run experiments but they didn’t scale and weren’t suitable for large fields. Now, these tests can be deployed at scale across an entire farm with the use of satellites and potentially some assistance from a UAV.

What Is The Future of Agriculture?

Many think that agriculture is soon going to become fully automated, with humans benefiting from high levels out output due to increased productivity of the farms. Although satellites play a significant part in the future of precision farming, it isn’t the only technology that is needed to put a farm on autopilot. UAVs and other technologies will be needed in tandem with satellites to inspect issues close up.

In the coming years, we could see an era where crop yield is at an all-time high for farms or it can be the era where the populations grows to a point that our farms cannot support anymore. As long as we have a lot of people working on this problem, with the combination of satellites, UAVs, and any other technology needed, we will increase the production of our farms to a point that will exceed demand in the coming century. Only time will tell!