Back On The Map: Satellite Imagery Emerges As A Valuable Tool

For many years satellite imagery was a solution in search of a viable precision agriculture system in which it could deliver value. In-season, on-demand imagery was often hampered by cloud cover and a dearth of available satellites for taking images. Until recently, as a stand-alone tool it hadn’t carved itself a stable and consistent place in the crop production regimen.

Over the past decade, the number of satellites has increased significantly, improving the quality and frequency of the images available to agriculture. Planet Labs, which purchased BlackBridge and its RapidEye satellite constellation, is supplying Wilbur-Ellis and Crop Production Services with imagery to support their precision programs.

Planet also delivers satellite imagery to agronomy/technology consulting firm Farmers Edge. Ron Osborne, Vice President of Innovation, says that while they’re doing some work with UAV imagery — specifically with Canadian drones-as-a-service company Green Aero — satellite imagery makes more sense for their needs.

“Remote sensing utilizing drones is very labor intensive at the moment, and that’s not likely to change in the near future in our view,” says Osborne. “It’s a tough business to get into given the regulatory restrictions, and also difficult to automate.”

Imagery is only one component of a wider precision system for Farmers Edge, which includes soil testing, a proprietary telemetry package installed on field equipment, and in-field sensors collecting weather and field data. In the context of the total value proposition, the imagery is a strong supplement to the value offering to growers, helping to create management zones and providing in-season detection of factors such as crop health, drainage issues, and pest infestations.

Deere Dealer Imagery Opportunity

John Deere gave imagery a go on its own in the 2000s with its John Deere Agri-Services division, but got out of the business in 2008. Its recent agreement with Satshot indicates there’s emerging value to be captured. “What we have been offering the John Deere dealer network is the ability to rebrand our Landscout imagery scouting IOS app with their dealership name and brand for use for their customers,” says Lanny Faleide, Satshot President. “Many dealers want a solution with their name on it.”

Landscout allows growers to analyze their fields from the latest or archived Satshot image of their field, and allows them to merge, attribute, and export the zones to the MyJohnDeere system directly to the machine wirelessly, even while in the cab.

“We will be acquiring imagery every five days or better in 2017 from various resolutions,” says Faleide. “For example, a user can immediately analyze a field and time up a fungicide application based on biomass levels after the image is acquired. This allows Deere dealers to provide the most up-to-date sprayer crop information to handle this application.”

Variable-rate seeding and nutrient maps can also be created by the user immediately based on crop health biomass analytics, he adds. This allows the user to do variable-rate applications at much more cost effective levels. “Using Landscout also allows all acres to be done by variable rate, not just a portion of their acreage,” says Faleide.

“So far we have seen very good interest from the Deere dealers,” he notes. “Many dealers are starting to add agronomy services within their framework, and this allows information to be paired with the machine.”

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