Satellite crop monitoring myth busting and the next breakthrough - Elders Rural Services

Satellite crop monitoring myth busting and the next breakthrough

The chance meeting of an agriculture economist and a former defence data processing expert has brought breakthroughs in remote crop monitoring, the next Elders Presents online event will hear.

Croppers can now get early warnings when a crop is frosted, or stressed from weeds or other issues, while optimising irrigation, fertiliser and chemical use with affordable variable rate applications, according to Elders head of technical services and agronomist Graham Page.

Not long after selling her company, which had been developing defence technology for Australia, Dr Moira Smith was mentoring an Australian agricultural business executive who introduced her to Mr Page.

The resulting partnership between Elders and a new business Dr Smith co-founded with two colleagues, Digital Content Analysis Technology (D-CAT), has produced a new generation of satellite technology that offers remote cropping and pasture monitoring that Mr Page said made real gains.

“Plenty of people have been disappointed with satellite services that base results on NDVI readings or the ‘greenness’ of the crops and pastures,” Mr Page said.

“With its intelligence background, D-CAT has been able to provide different data and insights that could be applied to agriculture in ways we hadn’t realised were possible.”

Satellite images can be used to estimate subsoil moisture, provided there is a local in-soil moisture probe for calibration, and detect soil characteristics, like iron oxides and clay mineral composition.

“Elders has been able to help us identify how data is used and interpreted,” Dr Smith said. “With those insights, we have even seen some promise for using this technology to indicate potential pH and toxicity issues.”

“We’re utilising the whole spectrum of data available from satellites to deliver the greatest range of insights possible,” Dr Smith said.

“Because we’re not just looking at greenness or NDVI, and we work with Elders and their clients to really understand what’s needed from imaging, we’re delivering real benefits that save time and money, and increase productivity.”

The new tool, AgIntel, provides automatic analysis of vegetation vigour, health, canopy extent, stress and more. Dr Smith said it was also able to benchmark across a region, between crops and over time.

Optical satellite imagery updates every three to five days and the radar imagery is also available which ‘sees through’ clouds, offering greater data continuity in high rainfall zones.

The data is also granular enough to allow for affordable variable rate application. The standard resolution is 10 square metres and even 30-square-centimetre resolutions can be arranged for intensive operations like horticulture.

Dr Smith will join experts from Croplands, AEGIC, and Thomas Elder Markets in an interactive session on cropping, spraying and broadacre market movements at the next Elders Presents online event on Wednesday, 28 October 2020.