Eco-future through Satellites: Growing food from space

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europe by night
A satellite view of Europe by night. Photo - ecobase21.net

Here is a good news for farmers. European Space Agency has used satellites to prove that crops were fertilizer-free and determine if a plant is organically-grown or not,?as part of eco-solutions launched by Ecocert, Europe?s leading organic certification agency.

To give detailed overview of their project, infra-red and thermal images and the related data has been collected and deciphered to gain a ?spectral signature? of the crops and soil.

According to Dr Pierre Ott of Ecocert, the trials proved over 80% successful, and compared to physically going to fields to collect, test and certify them, much more time effective.

As Ecocert test only worked on wheat and corn grown in large fields, the overall field is still unexplored as the technology for organic certification needs to be improved. However, people can genuinely use satellite imagery to fertilise correctly, or manage water stress.

Geoff Wade, director natural resource industries for global information software company, ESRI, says the technology was originally used to calculate subsidies owed to farmers in European Union but over the years it has developed at a rapid pace. The different scope arises from Californian vineyards and Chinese rice fields to Colombian coffee plantations and Kenyan crops.

Satellites imagery has become a commonplace in agriculture as it is being used to monitor land and water use to promote environmental protection.

?They are so good now,? said Wade. ?In the last few years six-inch imagery is commonplace. The level of detail of six-inch imagery on a field is incredible. People can genuinely use satellite imagery to fertilize correctly, or manage water stress.?

CAN CHINA GO ORGANIC?

Farmers at individual level and small-holders can now avail the benefit of exact information about the condition of their crops. Some of the innovative software?s developed by ESRI has been applied by eLeaf, a company that supplies data on water use and vegetation. The resolution of images will decide the costs anything from a few cents to a few euros per hectare through pictures taken by satellites.

The International Fund for Agricultural Development is funding farmers in Ethiopia, Sudan and Kenya in an ongoing eLeaf project, where they are sent a text message on when to irrigate and fertilize their crops.

In a similar way, a project is going on in South Africa to promote environmental protection in South Africa. The experts are measuring the water consumption of natural vegetation compared to invasive species and agriculture for food production.
Patrick Sheridan of eLeaf said there is a long way to go ahead where satellites would be able to replace farmers and manage crops, water supplies and tell the difference between organic and non-organic crops without any help from farmers.

According to Sheridan, the biggest role satellite geo-information will have in the future is to provide data on water conservation and management.??In a few years, we?ll have nine billion people living on this earth and in a lot of regions water is already scarce, but in about 50% of these people will live in water stress positions. We can tell governments ?Are you doing ok?? (in water management) or is there room for improvement, and that is really in quite high demand.?

But still the main obstacles to improve the better and cheaper data are improving the resolution of images so more crops in smaller spaces can be analyzed, plus the revisit times of the satellites. ?But it’s still really good,? enthuses Wade. ?You?d need lots of people to visit crops every week to do what a satellite can do.?

As the new innovations of science and technology continue to rule us with huge expensive cost of the information to the end users and farmers is not.

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