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Applications of Earth Observation in Agriculture

What can Earth Observation technologies bring to the table to transform CYBELE’s agricultural innovations into a real-world success? Here, we explain what innovation fuelled by Earth Observation can mean for the future of our agri-business practices.

The answer to the question above lies in Earth Observation’s extraordinary ability to provide innovations with the bigger picture, both literally and figuratively. It elevates insights by enabling us to see things others can’t, from outside the box, or specifically, from outside our Earth.

Let’s start with the basics – what is Earth Observation? Earth Observation (EO) can be defined as the collection and analysis of information regarding our planet’s physical, chemical and biological systems. A wide range of technologies existing for collecting EO data; within CYBELE, the focus is primarily on the use of satellites. Sophisticated imaging technologies mounted on satellites can provide us with a plethora of different types of information, which can be used to help us deepen our understanding of the condition of our planet, how it works and how we can improve it.

Images from weather satellites make regular appearances on our news channels, and thanks in large part to Google Earth, millions of people are now aware of the beauty and power of optical satellite imagery. Despite this popular appeal, relatively few industries make use of satellite data. Historically, getting hold of satellite imagery was both expensive and time-consuming, and – once acquired - required a great deal of technical know-how in order to get something useful out of it.

But things have changed quite dramatically in recent years. The EO industry is undergoing a sort of renaissance, thanks to the maturation and convergence of number of important enabling technologies including big data, cloud computing, the Internet of Things, deep learning and artificial intelligence, as well as miniaturisation and improvements in chip performance. A broader industrial movement known as “NewSpace” has developed new business models, offering private, low-cost access to space (e.g. SpaceEx, Blue Origin) and building small and light satellite constellations (e.g. Planet’s “Doves”). On top of this, the European Union’s Copernicus programme, operational since 2014 with its dedicated Sentinel satellites, generates over 1.5 terabytes of data every day, which is freely and openly available for use by citizens, scientists and businesses.

Taken together, these trends represent an enormous opportunity for boosting the productivity, innovation and competitiveness of European SMEs and start-ups, especially in emerging industries of precision agriculture and precision livestock farming. Moreover, industries which were traditionally thought of as completely isolated from the space sector are learning that by teaming up with EO providers or leveraging EO data, they can enhance their products and services, set themselves apart and achieve their vision.

CYBELE will utilise EO to help predict protein content of soya bean harvests, provide more accurate extreme weather warnings for fruit farmers, optimise crop yield forecasts and even guide fishing vessels towards more sustainable operations. Other applications of EO in the agriculture sector are discussed below to demonstrate the real-world operability of EO in the sector today, and to show what CYBELE can achieve:

Farm Management in Denmark

Crop farmers in Denmark are becoming more efficient through the use of EO. Every 5 days, EO images are processed to provide maps of the fields throughout the growing season. These show farmers where they have crop-problems due to pests, diseases or irrigation and advises them on the treatments to combat potential crop loss. Farm machinery manufacturers and agriculture suppliers as well as Danish Ministries can all benefit through market information on the crops. Moreover, the general public benefits through a better environment by reduced use of chemicals on the farms.

Growing Potatoes in Belgium

Potatoes are very important for Belgium! Pommes frites or more appropriately Belgian Fries are at the heart of a very important part of the Belgian industrial sector. Recognising this importance and future challenges to the sector, agricultural companies in the Belgian potato industry have developed an application that makes use of Sentinel-2 EO data to support and advise farmers with regards to optimised use of chemicals, irrigation, harvest time and many other parameters, saving time and cost for farmers. The industry benefits through market information and can adjust their planning to become more efficient. The service aims at both increasing output of the sector and mitigating anticipated future effects such as climate change induced extreme weather events or labour shortages.

The re-thinking of EO is driving innovation itself, improving people’s lives and helping us develop more sustainable ways of working. Both businesses and society as a whole are experiencing the tangible benefits of including EO in their arsenal when endeavouring to create value and overcome challenges in the agricultural sector. CYBELE will leverage High Performance Computing, Big Data Analytics and Cloud Computing technologies to bring the agricultural applications of Earth Observation to the next level.



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