• Dan Purcell

Satellites provide on-the-ground analysis for farms fighting effects of climate change

Modern farming practices are both a challenge and a solution to climate change. To begin, farms produce about 10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in both Canada and the U.S. At the same time, changing weather patterns are producing record-breaking floods, hurricanes, wildfires and drought, which is playing havoc with soil and water conditions around the world. Evidence that it is in the agriculture sector’s best interests to be at the forefront of developing solutions to climate change and environmental degradation.

Enter precision agriculture. With remote sensors and satellite imagery, it allows for efficient management of cropland via visualization tools combined with data analysis to determine how to obtain the highest possible yield while building greater sustainability and resiliency for land and water resources.

One method to watch is the variable rate application (VRA), an automated process that uses a combination of sensors, aerial imagery, and GPS to map water, soil, fertilizer, seed, and other chemicals to enable the operator to clearly see areas of crop improvement to optimize yield. Not only does this contribute to reduced resource input, but it also positively impacts our climate and greenhouse gas emissions, by minimizing overlap of chemical applications, thereby reducing carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide emissions. Minimal overlap of these chemicals is controlled by GPS machinery which uses georeferenced coordinates from satellite maps to accurately maneuver a crop area and apply chemicals, water, and seeding.

Satellites can produce vegetation indexes, such as normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI), which assesses plant health by measuring how the plant reflects lights at various frequencies. Green is good, and red needs improvement.

With more operators adopting precision agriculture techniques, greenhouse gas emissions will be reduced, and the healthier our climate will be.