Some farmers are looking to the skies for help in boosting their crop yields. In an article appearing in The Economist this week, the spotlight is shone on farmers using satellite-based intelligence to find out how to best manage farm production to get the best yield.
Precise prescriptions for growing crops can be obtained quickly, and less expensively, by measuring electromagnetic radiation reflected from farmland. The data are collected by orbiting satellites.
For the farmers that utilise the satellite technology, the amount of data available to them about their crops is great:
The spectrum of this radiation—which can be in the form of either natural sunlight or artificial radar—can reveal, with surprising precision, the properties of the soil, the quantity of crop being grown, and the levels in those crops of chlorophyll, various minerals, moisture and other indicators of their quality. If recent and forecast weather data are added to the mix, detailed maps can be produced indicating exactly how, where and when crops should be grown.
It is very new technology. However one country seemingly leading the way in utilising this technology is France, according to The Economist.
More farmland is analysed by satellite there than in any other country, according to Infoterra (a subsidiary of EADS Astrium, a European space giant), the firm that is France’s largest provider of such information.
Computer mapping of farmland, also known as Geographic Information Systems (GIS), can also help farmers to establish land ownership and in turn encourages long-term investments such as irrigation infrastructure to boost yields.
Ryk Taljaard of Geo-Logic Mapping noted that this technology is extending into Africa and is helping farmers make more accurate and cost-effective orders for inputs such as seed, fertiliser and sprays.
The Economist article also reports that the World Agroforestry Centre in Nairobi has begun cataloguing more than 100,000 samples of African soils with the aim of incorporating this information into existing satellite technology.