Productivity from above: Practical and realistic use of multi-year imagery analysis to diagnose problem areas

- Checking fields
Garrett  Watson

Garrett Watson

Manager of Precision Ag Adoption, Nutrien Ag Solutions
 

More articles by Garrett Watson

Farmers spend hundreds of thousands and even millions of dollars on growing crops, through leasing and buying land, buying equipment, buying seed and inputs and in labour. So, making the most of that land makes good business sense.

You’ve driven across your fields thousands of times. You know the ins and outs. But are you using the capabilities of the equipment that you have, and the technology available? For instance, which areas in the field may appear to underperform? You know the north corner is a little low and a little wet. Or that knoll in the southeast quarter often shows thin stands.

Oftentimes, we’re not doing anything about these areas. Yet, we can use multi-year quantitative analysis to determine relative productivity in-field, and then can apply this analysis to investigate and mitigate that portion of the field.

Using multi-year imagery analysis is a great way to quantify the productivity of a field so we can make some better decisions. Satellite imagery and at least 10 years of in-season normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) is put through our weather model to weigh it for what the mid- and long-range forecast is, based on previous years. It spits out an average productivity map for your field for us, it’s broken down into lots of little squares based on historically how good that area produced in the field.

With this analysis, you can drop some points where you want to do some targeted soil sampling, for instance. Or we can turn it into a fertilizer prescription or a seed prescription. Maybe you want to level some ground because those poor spots are a little low.

The satellites we are using have been passing over for 20-30 years, so we have a huge inventory of imagery. For an individual farmer, we usually narrow it down to the last 10 or so years, but we can go back into the archives, no matter what was on that land – grass or crops – and we can get that entire history. Satellite imagery is also infinitely scalable.

The barrier to entry is really nothing, and I think we often overlook it because it’s not the new cool thing. But it’s a proven technology that anybody can use – indeed, this is one of our workhorses, we’ve been doing it for 14 years in Western Canada, so it obviously works.

The dollars and cents of quantitative analysis and doing things in targeted way cannot be underestimated – you can’t deny that at the end of the year, your balance sheet is going to look a little better if you’re managing things by looking at them a little closer.