Satellite crop monitoring review

Having a lot of fragmented information about satellite crop monitoring systems (SCM) we decided to make more detailed review and compare different solutions where it is possible.

We took the most popular services available worldwide and compared them based on functionality.

Executive summary

Setup and update

* depends on the purchased images

One disadvantage of all systems is their high dependency on cloud coverage; therefore, we do not assign the maximum rating of 10 points to any of the systems. It is necessary to mention several of the systems are using a number of satellites – including microwave capable satellites. Such satellites “combined” decrease limitations resulting from cloud coverage and this significantly improves the frequency and quality of received data.

Maps

* depends on the purchased images
Image resolution is an essential quality criterion for satellite imaging. All services provide a wide range of resolutions. Some images are included in the basic service package, but usually the user charged an additional fee for high-resolution images. At the same time, some services already include high quality 15X15 meter images in their base service package; this eliminates complicated ordering procedures and makes the service more user friendly.
Fields

All services include a very efficient zoning tool based on different zoning criteria.

 On field measures

 

** potato and beet

We assigned Cropio the highest score (not maximum) due to: a. the variety of on field measures; b. quality and depth of data; like: weather forecasting for individual field, soil moisture at the different depths, dew point, N-deficit of amount of required fertilizer, etc. Cropio has more on field capabilities and they are measured in real life units (kg, m3, cm).

 

Agronomist tools

 

** potato and beet

Agronomist tools greatly differ when comparing to other systems making it somewhat difficult compare. Theoretically, each system has enough or almost enough data to use the agronomist tools we list in our review but only one system incorporates user friendly instruments for reviewing tasks.

 

Manager tools

 

*** available in additional product

We separate Management tools from Agronomist tools since not all of these are necessary for the small famers with only 20 or 50 hectares. Although these very valuable features for mid and large sized companies that from now, for example, can have a better understanding of the harvest value at any point in time.

 

Additional tools

 

**** available at additional cost

Additional tools are tools that are not directly related to crop monitoring but could be very applicable in other areas, like lowering the cost of soil testing and integration of other systems.

Read more

Optimization of Your work with a help of modern technologies

 In this article we want to tell about influence of modern technologies on time, effort and money savings. What should modern agronomist or person working in the field of agricultural industry note for themselves? We have formulated our ideas in the form of recommendations.

Recommendation 1. You should always be aware.

The expression of Winston Churchill ” Who owns the information, owns the world” is now more relevant than ever. Internet has now become the main place, where you can read new information, experts opinion and express your own. Usually different forums and websites are the place for that, as well as websites of various research companies and manufacturers, where you can not only read about the latest products, but also read reviews about them.

There are two more, rather traditional ways to stay well-informed. First one is a visiting of agrarian exhibitions, where you can also discuss all interesting issues with your colleagues. Another variant is to read good literature on the topic (what you can easily do with a help of internet).

Recommendation 2. Weather shouldn’t be a surprise

It is vary easy to check the weather forecast in the net. But the problem is that from the agriculture point of view the weather forecast can be not very precise.  You have to check where the nearest weather station is situated, if  it is further distance than 20 km, so you would better think about own mini – weather station.

Recommendation 3. Computer for help.

Master your skills in useful computer programs such as Microsoft Excel, or its analogues, where it will be convenient to maintain the database and mathematical calculations necessary for your farm. There is also a special program for farmers, such as “AGRO-Net NG”, “AGRO-Map PF”, “Cropio“.

Recommendation 4. You should always have your mobile phone with You.

It is clear that mobile phone allows not only to keep in touch, but now got  the functions of the computer. Internet in conjunction with the newfangled software allows you to monitor the condition of the fields from home. It is also convenient to check the coordinates of the fields with the help of GPS, which is integrated into a new generation of mobile phones. In the most recent models also feature built-in diary, allowing you not to carry a pen and notebook constantly.

Recommendation 5. Do not be afraid of trying new things.

Progress does not stand still, new technologies and effective methods of farming emerge, do not be afraid to use them. Try it on not the whole area, but some small area, to be able to make a conclusion for yourself. For example, satellite crop monitoring, which becomes more and more popular  around the world, to someone initially seemed too wild and not understandable idea, but finally, the number of this technology supporters is constantly growing.

As we have seen, modern technology help greatly to facilitate your work, while increasing its efficiency and profitability.

Read more

Satellites as a bridge to new agronomic era

Nowadays it is hard to impress somebody with satellite launching. Though just 60 years ago it was like a fantastic tale. Nobody thought that it can be possible to see the photos of your house, street or field made from the space. In this article the issue of modern achievement, which became available thanks to satellite systems  and their influence on agrarian business will be discussed.

Achievement 1. Navigation.

Due to satellites the system of navigation GPS, which is now used for determination of  location and direction on air (aircrafts), on water (ships), and on land became possible. An advantage of this system is that it provides opportunity for any place (excluding polar region), almost in all weather conditions, to indicate the speed and  objects location. The basic principle here – the determination of the location by measuring the reception time of the synchronized signal from satellite to the consumer.

Achievement 2. Weather and climate control.

Satellites give possibility to explore the weather around the world, allowing them to follow the effects of phenomena like volcanic eruptions and burning gas and oil fields.

Satellites are the best sources of data for climate changes research. Satellites monitor ocean temperatures and prevailing currents; rise/drop of the sea levels, the changing sizes of glaciers. Satellites can determine long-term patterns of rainfall, vegetation cover, and emissions of greenhouse gases.

Achievement 3. Land Stewardship

Satellites can detect underground water and mineral sources; monitor the transfer of nutrients and contaminants from land into waterways, and the erosion of topsoil from land. They can efficiently monitor large-scale infrastructure, for example fuel pipelines that need to be checked for leaks.

As we can see, satellites have changed both: our leisure time and business, provoked the emergence of new agricultural technologies. We got possibility of more accurate prediction of changes in climate and weather, which is very important for farmers. Satellites have made possible simplification and improvement of the process of soil nitrogen saturation. We would like to highlight the following:

1. GPS+GIS

You can equip the tractor with signal receiver GPS, heading sensor and controller – the screen that reflects the identity or deviation from the path of the tractor predetermined. The control system allows you to store and forward rate tractor strictly parallel to the line that is fixed on the first pass of the unit, the second option – autopilot, which consists of electro-hydraulic automatic control of the tractor, which provides tractor autopilot on the field. Tractor-driver helps the process only while cornering, allowing it to focus on the process and less physically tired.

GIS (Geographic information system) – the system of collection, storage, analysis and graphical visualization of spatial (geographical) data and related information on the necessary facilities.

A new and promising directions in agriculture abroad is precision agriculture. The concern is that to use the heterogeneous data (the geographically-referenced results of soil sampling, remote sensing data processing, digital thematic maps) to optimize decision-making on the local application of fertilizers and pesticides into the soil to boost agricultural productivity.

2. Satellite crop monitoring

Technology based on spectral analysis of high resolution satellite crop images which enables to monitor vegetation developments, soil temperature,  humidity and to reveal problem areas on the field. Satellite crop monitoring is also suitable to precise weather forecast based on concrete field coordinates and to recall historical weather data retrospection. Discrepancy in NDVI dynamics reports about the disparities in development within a corn or a field that indicates the need for additional agricultural activities in some areas.

In conclusion, we can say that due to modern technologies as satellites we construct our future, and in order to go with the times it is very important to know about them and to use them, because combination of them with your experience make your business more efficient and with less time and effort costly.

Read more

Satellites make modern farming easier and more precise

Satellites make modern farming easier and more precise

Technical development in agriculture is moving quickly in other areas as well. The tractor or combine harvester now can be controlled automatically, and a GPS navigation system provides the driver with exact information on the tractor’s position. It reduces fuel consumption and allows fertilizing and harvesting operations to be carried out with greater precision. The driver’s working environment is also improved, since he or she does not have to steer the vehicle.

Computer support for precision farming

Sensors and computer screens provide the driver of a modern combine harvester with information on, for example, driving distances, harvesting per hour, grain water content and unloading in tons per hectare. The driver can adapt the speed to crop density, and even use the computer to plan farming operations. The aim is to find the best possible combination of different crops on agricultural land, to achieve the best possible results from crop rotation and expected crop prices. Information from laboratory analysis can be entered into the computer, to produce details of when to apply lime and how much fertilizer has to be added to different soil types. Information on expected sowing, fertilizing and spraying can also be entered, and all this information can be used as a basis for budgeting for the season.

If farmers use a combination of advanced market analysis and precise positioning, crop growing can be planned with much greater accuracy. The goal of this type of precision growing is to optimize the treatment of each part of a field. Traditionally, lime, fertilizer and crop sprays have been applied equally to every part of a field, but precision growing means that the resources can be targeted on the areas where they are needed most. This reduces the risk of nitrogen and phosphorus leaching into the ground water and watercourses.

For precision growing to work, the farmer must have detailed knowledge of the status of the different areas of a field, and be in complete control of the location of tractors or combine harvesters. For example, information on how much fertilizer needs to be applied to a certain area is stored in the computer. The GPS equipment keeps track of the tractor’s location, and the fertilizer feed is adjusted to the various conditions in a field. Precision GPS equipment reduces the overlap as a machine travels up and down a field from 10 percent of the machine width to only a few centi- metres, and this cuts down on both the hours worked and the amount of fuel consumed. Precision growing generates both financial and environmental benefits, but at present, the method only pays dividend on the largest farms. Crop farming may become even more detailed in the future, and some scientists are aiming for treatment of individual plants, a bit like providing potted plants at home with different amounts of water and nutrients.

Satellite crop monitoring

Nowadays, except GPS and GIS exist special services, which give opportunity to minimize efforts directed to definition of crop vegetation stage, harvest prognosis, weather forecast and fertilization planning just using special programs, based on satellite information. Satellite crop monitoring services provide updates on a daily basis regarding the condition of the sown area, which allows its user to control crop growth dynamics in a real-time setting.

(Based on http://advantage-environment.com/livsmedel/satellite-controlled-agricultural-machines-create-environmental-benefits/)

Read more

Satellite Crop Monitoring: Vegetation Control

Now, agricultural sector shows raising numbers of M&A  transactions which are successful in terms of fundraising for  their  projects. It gives grounds for assuming that amount of the companies involved in agriculture would be reducing within the next few years, while the volume of assets of the remaining participants would be growing up.

In terms of competitiveness, it is justified tendency: according to statistics data and private agriculture holdings reports, only farmers with large land bank are able to reach crop yield level  which at least approximates the European or global peers level, largely due to more available financing.

Agricultural holdings enter new stage of development, they have to change the degree of innovation in their field, whereas now it is one of the lowest among sectors of economy. In particular, this will bring improved crop cultivation, modern agricultural machinery and precision farming technologies – operational satellite monitoring of the farmland in order to spot significant deterioration of plants vegetation and consequent complex of measures to eliminate them (vegetation control).

Spectral characteristics of fields, results of texture analysis and changes in dynamics of colors brightness are being used to build indices and functions for harvest assessment and control. Processing of the satellite images in the red and infrared spectral range gives an opportunity not only to observe the fields in a real time mode, but also to generate database on the soil temperature and changes in its condition, rainfall, vegetation indexes for  different crops, with a time horizon of 10 and more years.

1.Fertilizing.  Rational fertilizing is extremely important for countries, whose chemical industry depends on imported raw materials and high gas prices. In particular this type of expenditures takes on average 17% in total crop cultivation cost. It is worth noticing that without using any additional options the satellite monitoring system enables to adequately measure only the level of required nitrogen content, nevertheless, the N-group fertilizers (mostly ammonium nitrate and urea) are the main types of minerals that are used by farmers. 

Due to the satellite crop monitoring  usage savings on fertilizers constitute more than 10% of annual expenditures on them. Thus for wheat the amount of savings in fertilizer can be from $8 to $40 per ha.

2.Wage costs. According to the results of our  studies, every 1,500 hectares of farmland additionally require from 3 to 5 agronomists being employed, whose salary starts from $625 per month (developing countries). Satellite crop monitoring reduces human capital needs by 1-2 employees. Savings on vegetation control from staff optimization is $0.5-$1 per month per ha.

3.Accuracy costs. Because of the outdated methods of determining fields boundaries and absence of the operational data on their shape and area changes, resulting from erosion, anthropogenic, climatic and other factors, each year actual processing cost is overstated by at least 1-3% per hectare of crops. Satellite crop monitoring effectively utilizes mentioned inefficiency. 

High quality satellite images with regular updates make it possible to avoid such losses. The average cost of 1 centner of wheat in developing counties amounts to $14.2/centner, the average yield – 33.5 centners/ha, therefore, due to modern technology use, you can save more than $9.4/ha.

4.Expenditures on fuel. It is recommended to do not less than 7 detours around the field per year in order to control crops development, including vegetation control. This requires approximately 0.4 l of diesel fuel (about $0.5) per hectare, while infrequent visits due  to satellite  monitoring give opportunity to save up to 40% of fuel per hectare ($0.2).

5.Expenditures on measurement of nitrogen level. Cost of a  laboratory analysis of a soil, which is recommended to undergo at least once every three years, is around $0.9-$1.2 per ha. Satellite crop monitoring gives information about the level of nitrogen in the soil, analyzing vegetation indices and its deviation for a particular field, saving annually $0.4 per hectare. 

In the developed countries, annual satellite crop monitoring service price of the crops starts from $1.5 per one hectare per year. Already  listed factors provide savings circa $27/ha per year. It is not possible to take into account all specific conditions for every particular case, but lets bear in mind that, sources of savings, mentioned  above, does not include the direct effect of technology – timely identification of deteriorations and precise preventive measures to save the crops while using satellite crop monitoring for vegetation control.

There are private satellite crop monitoring service providers: Monitoring Agricultural Resources (Italy), Cropio (USA/Germany), MapExpert (Ukraine), PrecisionAgriculture (Australia), Vega (Russia), eLeaf (Holland), Astrium-Geo (France).

In order to become a client of satellite crop monitoring service an agricultural company should sign a contract, pay fees, send shape-files with GPS-coordinates and Excel-file with cultivation history of the field.

Thereafter company’s manager (from the director of the group to agronomist of a single cluster) can  monitor, in the real time mode,  current soil temperature dynamics, weather conditions, vegetation index, precipitations and  field development deviations, compare them with historical values, using any stationary or tablet computer. Moreover, the obtained data can be passed on to other staff members or investors, be printed or uploaded into board computers of the agricultural machinery.

Long-term cooperation with farmers suggests that the use of satellite crop monitoring technology (including vegetation control) is spreading gradually but steadily among agricultural companies. In our opinion, this process would naturally correlate with increasing prestige, wages and labor efficiency of modern agronomists. Another reason is rising competition in world food markets and increasing costs of production components that are forcing agricultural companies to work more efficiently. So, those who will fail in efficiency improvements will be bought by those who succeed in it.

Read more

Comparison of Different Vegetation Indices for the Remote Assessment of Green Leaf Area Index of Crops

Many algorithms have been developed for the remote estimation of biophysical characteristics of vegetation, in terms of combinations of spectral bands, derivatives of reflectance spectra, neural networks, inversion of radiative transfer models, and several multi-spectral statistical approaches. However, the most widespread type of algorithm used is the mathematical combination of visible and near-infrared reflectance bands, in the form of spectral vegetation indices. Applications of such vegetation indices have ranged from leaves to the entire globe, but in many instances,  applicability of vegetation indices is specific to species, vegetation types or local conditions. The general objective of vegetation indices study is to evaluate different vegetation indices for the remote estimation of the green leaf area index (Green LAI) of two crop types (maize and soybean) with contrasting canopy architectures and leaf structures. Among the indices tested, the chlorophyll Indices (the CIGreen, the CIRed-edge and the MERIS Terrestrial Chlorophyll Index, MTCI) exhibited strong and significant linear relationships with Green LAI, and thus were sensitive across the entire range of Green LAI evaluated (i.e., 0.0 to more than 6.0 m2/m2). However, the CIRed-edge was the only index insensitive to crop type and produced the most accurate estimations of Green LAI in both crops (RMSE= 0.577 m2/m2). These results were obtained using data acquired with close range sensors (i.e., field spectroradiometers mounted 6 m above the canopy) and an aircraft-mounted hyperspectral imaging spectroradiometer (AISA). As the CIRed-edge also exhibited low sensitivity to soil background effects, it constitutes a simple, yet robust tool for the remote and synoptic estimation of Green LAI. Algorithms based on this index may not require re-parameterization when applied to crops with different canopy architectures and leaf structures, but further studies are required for assessing its applicability in other vegetation types (e.g., forests, grasslands).

The ratio of leaf surface area to unit ground surface area, called leaf area index (LAI) (Breda, 2003), describes the potential surface area available for leaf gas exchange between the atmosphere and the terrestrial biosphere (Cowling and Field, 2003). Therefore, it is an important parameter controlling many biological and physical processes of the vegetation, including the interception of light and water (rainfall and fog), attenuation of light through the canopy, transpiration, photosynthesis, autotrophic respiration, and carbon and nutrient (e.g. nitrogen, phosphorus, etc.) cycles. LAI obtained across a range of spatial scales, from individual plants to entire regions or continents (Bonan, 1993; Running, 1990; Running and Coughlan, 1988; Sellers et al., 1986) has been used extensively in interactive models of land surface processes (Field and Avissar, 1998; Pielke et al., 1998). As with other canopy structural properties, LAI can be separated into its photosynthetic and non-photosynthetic components. The portion of LAI composed of green leaf area (i.e., Green LAI) is the photosynthetically functional component.

Two main types of approaches have been developed to estimate Green LAI remotely: (1) inversions of canopy radiative transfer models (Fang et al., 2003; Knyazikhin et al., 1998a, 1998b; Weiss et al., 1999); and (2) empirical relationships between Green LAI and spectral vegetation indices (Chen and Cihlar, 1996; Curran, 1983a, b; Jordan, 1969; Myneni et al., 1997; Wiegand et al., 1979). While the two approaches are quite complementary (Pinty et al., 2009), it is difficult to obtain optimal parameterized solutions for radiative transfer model inversions (Fang et al., 2003). Therefore, vegetation indices have seen a more widespread use due to their ease of computation.

Spectral vegetation indices are mathematical combinations of different spectral bands mostly in the visible and near infrared regions of the electromagnetic spectrum. These numerical transformations are semi-analytical measures of vegetation activity and have been widely shown to vary not only with the seasonal variability of green foliage, but also across space, thus suitable for detecting within-field spatial variability (i.e., useful in precision agriculture). The main purpose of spectral vegetation indices is to enhance the information contained in spectral reflectance data, by extracting the variability due to vegetation characteristics (e.g. LAI, vegetation cover) and to minimize soil, atmospheric, and sun-target-sensor geometry effects (Moulin and Guerif, 1999). Spectral vegetation indices constitute a simple and convenient approach to extract information from remotely sensed data, due to their ease of use, which facilitates the processing and analysis of large amounts of data acquired by satellite platforms (Govaerts et al., 1999; Myneni et al., 1995). Significant advances have been achieved in the understanding of the nature and proper interpretation of spectral vegetation indices (Myneni et al., 1995; Pinty et al., 1993) and theoretical frameworks have been proposed to support the development of indices optimized for particular applications/ sensors (Gobron et al., 2000; Verstraete et al., 1996).

Applications of vegetation indices have ranged from leaf to global levels, and in the case of Green LAI, some successes have been obtained for different crops (Boegh et al., 2002; Broge and Mortensen, 2002; Clevers, 1989; Colombo et al., 2003; Curran, 1983a, b; Xiao et al., 2002). However, most vegetation indices tend to be species specific and therefore, are not robust when applied across different species,
with different canopy architectures and leaf structures. The goal of this study is to evaluate the suitability of different vegetation indices for the remote estimation of multi-temporal Green LAI of crops with contrasting leaf structures and canopy architectures… <based on>

(Source – https://www.msu.edu/~vina/2011_RSE_GLAI.pdf)

Read more

Vegetation Control: Profitable Investment

Agricultural complex has always been one of the most significant propelling forces of the Ukrainian economy. Agriculture provides for 8% of total GDP, covering about 71% of the territory and 17% of working population employment. Meanwhile, in comparison with their foreign peers, the performance indicators of domestic agrarian companies demonstrate disproportion in operating results. Thus, if we scrutinize developing countries with agricultural specialization, Ukraine will demonstrate the highest rate of territory used for crop production (0.71 hectares per citizen) with a relatively small contribution to the GDP (-3−8% to the other countries level).

This correlation is reflected in the grain crop yield, which ranks Ukraine far behind the majority of leading grain-producing countries. Extensive management methods have led to the degradation of the black soil and thus – to the increase in expenses required per unit of cultivated area, fertilizers in particular.

It is impossible to improve  productivity performance in Ukraine without a substantial growth in mineral fertilizers use. However, global (reduction of the discrepancy between demand and production capacity) and domestic (deficit of phosphate fertilizers, potash fertilizer production standstill, increasing natural gas price) factors lead to constant rise in fertilizers prices for Ukrainian farmers and as a result lead to the profitable investments.

In addition, it should be noted that prices for agricultural machinery, fuel and pesticides have significantly increased. Even despite the fact that crop prices in 2011 have risen on average by 15%, the increase in prices for machinery and other accompanying expenses was more substantial.

The human capital costs have changed in a similar manner: the average nominal wage of an agricultural worker has increased by 25.9%during the last year. Still the Ukrainian agriculture industry employs +5-10% more population as compared to the European countries, while every employee produces 2-5x times less quantity of the added value.

In 2011 the expenses for fertilizers, POL and wages constituted almost 40% of crop production cost, thus during only one year the price jump caused spending spree by 15% and even more for specific crops. Let alone the cost of spare parts and materials for the repair of machinery and buildings (+0.3% in the total cost structure) and the rising costs for seed grain. In other words, such a scenario allows to catch up with the price increase tendency, but arouses the necessity to renovate obsolete production capacities, agriculture machines fleet, which also become less affordable, especially in terms of “price-quality” ratio. For example, some items from leading international equipment producers which are available in Ukraine have raised in price by 10% and even more in comparison with the analogue machines from the CIS.

Thus the problem is to find internal sources of production cost reduction to compensate the cost increase, which is beyond the agricultural holding control (fuel and metal prices, fertilizers deficiency, etc.). Global agricultural products prices do not depend on production cost in Ukraine, so it is the agrarian’s business to reduce it by cultivation cost-cutting. For this reason, developed countries opt for the use of precision agriculture system based on computer analysis of remote crops sensing data (RSD). Some Ukrainian farms already use such agricultural technologies as geologic information systems (GIS) and global positioning system (GPS). But in such a limited format these technologies are rather used to control equipment fleet maintenance, fuel input rationality and adequate farm maps creation. In the course of our cooperation with the agricultural companies management, we have discovered that a maximum allowable innovation is considered to be the purchase of expensive foreign equipment, its GPS monitoring installation and the creation of interactive maps of soils of rather satisfying quality. But precision agriculture implies exactly the efficient usage of every single asset. Even a large fleet of tractors can not effectively cultivate the fields without additional instructions on problem areas, non-rational heavy fertilization can be harmful and interactive maps do not allow to understand the current field condition in a real-time mode. It proves to be a real problem for the large farms as they simply fail to control the vegetation on their fields, and thus to identify in time the causes of low crop yield in different regions.

The main condition for the high-efficient GPS and GIS deployment is close cooperation with the system of constant remote vegetation control of field crops. Altogether, this forms the organizational strategic units . This scheme enables to attract fewer workers to control vegetation, field works planning and maintenance of communication between individual units and subunits of agro-enterprises. The vegetation control system performs constant monitoring of agro-enterprises soils irrespective of the distance among the fields and of the crops planted. Upon the abnormal “spot” appearance on the field, the person in charge receives a message and the agronomist makes appropriate decisions regarding fertilization, irrigation or other cultivation arrangements. We have to admit that other methods of soil monitoring (driving around the fields, installation of special observing equipment on certain areas, taking soil pieces for laboratory analysis, etc.) are less informative but consume more time and funds. In addition, each of the observations is far more difficult to organize and to hold than to download all required current and historical data (with its automatic interpretation) from any computer connected to the Internet.

As the conducted research have revealed, the cost of the each service on average starts from $1.5 a year per hectare, depending on the total farm area the system maintains. At the same time, this service allows to save $3-5/ha and to make profit from efficiency performance increment (e.g. for winter wheat) starting from $13/ha. In other words, every invested dollar gives an opportunity to earn 18 times more by reducing costs and increasing the efficiency of crops cultivation. For instance, if 10 largest domestic agricultural holdings have a land domain of more than 150,000 ha each, the application of RSD satellite analysis will bring a profit measured in tens of millions US dollars.

Nowadays, only a few domestic companies in Ukraine render services of crop vegetation control. However this derives from a low demand due to conservatism of the most agrarians, their general aversion to high technologies and short period of presence of such services in the domestic market. On the other hand, internal trends in the agricultural sector indicate that the next steps of the businessmen in agricultural field will become optimization of assets and search for sources to improve their operation efficiency.

Tags: satellite, precise agriculture, GIS, GPS, crop, Ukraine, efficiency, wheat, sunflower, barley, legumes

Read more

Weather History

To get data on historical temperature figures, cloudiness and humidity indices for each month in different regions or countries all over the world you can use World Meteorological Organization database  by following this link.

Moreover, some crop monitoring systems (e.g. satellite vegetation monitoring systems) offer the option of precise weather forecast backed by historical database

Tags: World Meteorological Organization, forecast, weather, agriculture, temperature, cloudiness, humidity, crop, yield

 

Read more

Precision Agriculture and the Ukrainian Reality

The Committee on World Food Security research shows that nowadays global welfare largely depends on the dynamics of food production. We have learned how to synthesize scarce sapphire crystals and how to replace expensive petrol with biofuel, but still unable to cope with the hunger problem. The world population is growing, while the area of free land for the expansion of crops is limited – another deforestation or swamps draining is a potential threat of ecological disaster. Profits from sunflower oil, wheat or sugar sales in the world market are comparable to machinery and coal trade profitability. The question is why more than a third of Ukrainian agricultural enterprises are unprofitable in such favorable environment? What methods of doing business help global leaders of the agricultural market work more efficiently than domestic companies that have rich Ukrainian soils?

Ukrainian-type Efficiency of Agricultural Business

The necessity to pursue the way of the intensive agricultural development became evident to the most developed countries long ago. The most recent developments in science and technology are applied not only to space rocket engineering, but to work in the field as well. Modern agricultural machinery is equipped with computers, new varieties of crops are grown in the laboratories, whilst satellites and drones are watching crops of large landowners in real-time. Nowadays agriculture of developed countries turns to an absolutely new level of competition – the efficient one. In a market where you can not control the price, you must manage the prime cost or go away. Agricultural market has become so global that the most effective way to manage profitability is to manage production costs. Modern wars are held without tanks and infantry – just one rocket is enough if it hits the enemy’s camp navigated from space and powered with minimum resources, but reaching maximum effect. The same processes take place in the agrarian sector. All the efforts have been turned to allocate available resources with the highest efficiency to achieve the utmost result.

The general picture of precision agriculture in Ukraine calls for new efficient reforms at least to overtake the leading world agrarian producers. Let us turn to statistics. According to the State Statistics Service of Ukraine, since the proclamation of independence in Ukraine the level of the plowed area reached nearly 72% of total country territory which is one of the highest indices value in the world. At the same time the production volume of cereals/legumes and sugar beets per capita declined in comparison with 1990 by 13% and 65% respectively. This means that the extensity of using acreage has not justified itself. The same is about the excessive use of another available resource in Ukraine – manpower. In this country over 16% of the population is employed in the agricultural sector (according to the FAO research, this figure does not exceed 9% for the developed countries), but the number of added value created by one employee is “only” 2,500 dollars per year (in the U.S. it equals to 51,000 dollars, in Romania – 9,700, in Poland – 3,000).

Significant gap between leading countries and Ukraine can be actually closed only with the help of many millions of investments that seems very difficult within the global financial crisis. The lack of “long-term money” (the payback period in the agriculture reaches at least 5-7 years even in the most optimistic scenario) multiplied by the lack of investments defend guarantees, inflation and instability of commodity markets, creates difficulties to obtain financing even for the largest agricultural holdings. However, it is hardly possible to overtake the world leaders by the other way in the current business environment: according to the World Bank, Ukrainian reality shows us that Ukraine has one of the lowest rates of fertilizer expenses and tractor use per unit of cultivated area, the average productivity depending on the crop is lower than world analogs in two or three times, each planting and harvesting campaign has deficiency of oil products whose production in Ukraine is insufficient because of a lack of raw materials and general equipment deterioration.

Let’s Change the Principles!

In such a situation the Ukrainian agricultural sector needs to find alternative ways for the further development. It’s half of the problem when we lose our export positions – much worse is when we have to purchase the agricultural production for foreign currency abroad like it regularly happens with sugar. If oil, natural gas, phosphates and other raw materials for agriculture are rising in price, it is better to optimize their consumption per unit of cultivated area to achieve maximum efficiency in each field, for each type of crops. The one who will be able to offer worthy quality at a reasonable market price, without doing himself out of his share and his interest as an entrepreneur, can be a winner in the market competition. It is necessary to abandon an unprofitable principle of explicit loss and to switch to smart management “as needed”. What’s the use of distributing fertilizers evenly, if only few fields or areas within the field need more fertilizers, while the others have the surplus? Does it make sense to go around the crops every day to check whether everything is in order, if there are systems for identifying problem fields? Why do we use the weather forecast for the nearest settlement, if we need the weather for a particular field in two dozen kilometers away? These are the questions which have become the philosophy of agribusiness in developed countries but are not that popular among the Ukrainians.

Precision Agriculture

It is possible to achieve the result described above with the help of so-called “precision agriculture” – the use of the concept about the existence of heterogeneity within a single field or planting. Such features could be caused by the landscape specifics, soil composition and proximity of mineral layers, condition of groundwater, climatic characteristics and features of crops which were grown on the area before. Precision agriculture foresees the continuous monitoring of crops and soil for the operational planning of the range of actions to optimize the condition of problem areas. For example, if a separate section of the field area of 20 hectares has a small yellow spot area of 0.5 hectares, it is not necessary to fertilize or to impose additional watering sessions to the whole field – it is enough just to handle problem areas. This will result in much lower costs of fertilizer, POL, wages and depreciation of equipment, even more – it will save working hours of equipment and employees for other tasks.

Monitoring Systems

 Monitoring of fields can be realized in different ways: driving round fields, collecting and analyzing soil samples, using sensors and aerial photography. At the current level of technological development, one can launch aircraft without a pilot but equipped with sensors,  photo- and video cameras and filled with fuel to make a 30-minute flight. However, the complexity of control and maintenance of such equipment, as well as the size of field (over 100 hectares) make this work scheme quite expensive and hardly feasible. For such a scale, agrarians opt for satellite space shooting , the processing of which allows to monitor crops and to make decisions about pointed application of fertilizers, insecticides or herbicides, irrigation or other actions  based on the handling of images with overlaid in red and infrared spectrum. In addition, data from such programs can be uploaded in any electronic device or in the onboard computer of agricultural machinery making it easier to set tasks for employees in the agricultural enterprise.

Satellite crop monitoring systems are successfully used in many countries of America, Europe and the CIS. The most well-known and effective providers of this service are such companies as Cropio (USA/Germany), Astrium-Geo (France), Mapexpert (Ukraine), Vega (Russia). The use of these systems allows not only to monitor efficiently the condition of fields, but also to receive reports and notifications about the most important issues through Internet or sms, to make forecasts of the field productivity and the entire enterprise, to receive related information about the agricultural markets, currency rates and prices for agricultural products in certain markets, to compare current and historical indices of vegetation, soil moisture, content of fertilizers.

Cost Savings Plain to See

Few of us has thought that it takes at least 0.4 liters of fuel or UAH 1.2 to drive round of field area of 1 ha (100 m*100 m) 8 times per year. According to the American Institute of the Precise Farming, the differentiated fertilization brings savings of 10% per hectare. Having summed these and other explicit and implicit costs, we can obtain savings of at least UAH 146 per hectare using satellite observation in Ukrainian agriculture.

If in the Ukrainian realities domestic businessmen are progressive enough and ready to start running the management according to new standards using the techniques of precise agriculture, it is quite possible that eventually Ukraine will become one of the absolute world leaders in the production of some crops, and a number of major agricultural exchanges will be opened on its territory involving customers from around the world. The Ukrainian agronomist who uses services of satellite crop increases its professional efficiency and management methods makes a real “jump” from the Stone Age to the age of high technology. Such an agronomist is in the same league with his colleagues from around the world leveraging not only Soviet scientific school knowledge, but also the global scientific progress.

The result is smaller staff of agronomists, lower fuel and fertilizer costs. Having one or more of such satellite monitoring centres, the agrarian can cut costs that previously put at risk the profitability of enterprise, and what is even more crucially, optimize the quality and return of each resource, be it land, workers, machinery or fertilizers. It is always better to make qualitative changes rather than quantitative ones in each operation of business cycle. The customer is ready to buy the product at a price not higher than a certain threshold which occurs as the average price of all sellers, in a free market he will not overpay for our inability to run a business efficiently. As advertising recalls: “Why should I pay more?”

Summing up, let us recollect another wise saying: “Everything dies without sustained development.” Nowadays it is not enough to own hundreds of hectares of high-quality black soil or endlessly increase fleet of vehicles. Once in a while one should step back and take a look at unproductive attempts to invest and think how to make more money. The authors of political economy put it that the possessing of right information helps to make a profit.

Tags: precise agriculture, Ukraine, satellite, fertilizer, wheat, barley, legumes, sunflower, agronomist, Cropio

Read more

Normalized Difference Vegetation Index

Vegetation is a process of plants growth and development activity.

One of the most popular methods for vegetation level appraisal is Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI).

NDVI can be calculated using the following formula: NDVI=NIR-RED/NIR+RED, where NIR means near-infrared region reflection, RED – red region reflection. This correlation is based on different spectral features of chlorophyll in a visible and short-range IR range. Modern technology enable us to use objects spectral characteristics, results of textures and colours intensity analysis ; to develop indices and functions on basis of these features.

For a manual probing agrarians use such gadgets as Yara N-Tester, Trimble GreenSeeker and FieldScout. The price range for a gadget lays within $3-5 ths range.

For a automatic probing agrarians use such gadgets as Trimble GreenSeeker and Yara N-Sensor which can be installed on self-propelled agriculture machines. The price range for a gadget lays within $25-40 ths range.

For large agriculture facilities  becomes popular to use satellite crop monitoring. The vegetation level is calculated on the base of each pixel from satellite images. Each field analysis can by displayed as a digital vegetation map. The most popular service providers are Monitoring Agricultural Resources (Italy), Astrium-Geo (France), Cropio (USA/Germany), Vega (Russia).

Tags: vegetation, NDVI, NIR, IR, satellite, Cropio, Mapexpert,Vega, Yara N-Tester, Trimble GreenSeeker, FieldScout, Trimble GreenSeeker, Yara N-Sensor, Normalized Difference Vegetation Index, crop, monitoring

Read more