• Dan Purcell

Satellites, drones and other visual tech are the future of farming

Next time you’re enjoying a backyard BBQ look to the stars; the information being collected up there is helping produce the food on your plate.

Satellite imagery is playing an increasingly important role in precision agriculture thanks to technological advancements in visualization techniques that provide actionable insights to improve crop efficiencies, reduce operating costs and enhance competitive advantages.

It works like this: satellites produce baseline images, with a baseline resolution. A baseline image is the standard image generated from a satellite, similar to someone taking a photo on an iPhone or Android device. Resolution refers to the amount of detail that can be represented in an image. Higher resolution means that pixel sizes are smaller, providing more detail. For instance, some image providers capture baseline images at a 30cm resolution.

Drone fly-overs and other aerial vehicle technologies also help enhance resolution by capturing more images, which produces more data. The more flyovers or aerial images taken of a baseline area, the higher the resolution will be, which increases accuracy and precision of the data.

Layering different georeferenced data sets, such as digital elevation models and multispectral images, allows for the visualization and prediction of crops. For instance, these image-created data sets can illustrate water run-off and soil conditions. Visualizing crops allows operators to see the adjustments needed for efficient seeding, watering, pesticides, or fertilizer to promote a larger crop yield, while limiting input resources.

Advanced visualization techniques can be done daily, weekly, or at random. It’s an added piece of information to encourage informed decision-making, a boon for an industry with small margins and a competitive marketplace. It’s why companies such as McCain Foods, and its supply chain of farmers are using these new eyes in the sky to enhance the harvest on the ground.