• TerrAvion TerrAvion
  • Aug 07
  • 3 min read

Aerial imagery for sustainable agriculture

Growers around the world work hard to provide for society's food and textile needs, and they require many resources to do so. The goal of sustainable agriculture is to meet society's present food and textile needs without compromising future generations ability to do the same. More efficient use of natural resources and inputs harmful to the environment can limit the strain producers put on the environment. Sustainable agronomy programs can deliver higher yields than more wasteful programs through more intelligent input distribution and resource allocation. Aerial imagery enables growers to farm more sustainably by helping them minimize water use, promote soil health, and lower pollution levels on their farms. 

Water management

Water is the principal resource for all producers, and water scarcity is one of the most immediate threats facing growers today. Growers require a significant amount of water to produce and meet the world's food and textile needs. Faulty irrigation and drainage systems can result in inefficient use of water and soil degradation. Sustainable water management

Outdated irrigation systems can apply more water than is necessary for a crop to reach its full yield potential, resulting in wasteful water runoff. High-resolution thermal imagery, which correlates to moisture levels in fields, can help growers see were their irrigation systems are over-applying water. This information allows them to make warranted adjustments to save water. High-resolution NDVI imagery can be used to evaluate irrigation trials and help growers determine optimal irrigation rates throughout their fields. Information on the varying water requirements throughout a field facilitates variable rate irrigation programs for modern center pivot and linear irrigation systems. 

Water sustainability isn't only about growers applying less water; sometimes it's about making the most of the water that they are using. Thermal imagery can help growers identify clogged sprinkler nozzles along their irrigation systems. Clogged nozzles can leave crops water-stressed. Water stressed plants will not grow to their full yield potential, making waste of the seed, fertilizer, and other inputs used to produce the crop. The image above shows a center pivot that has multiple malfunctioning nozzles along the sprinkler. The faulty nozzles leave behind a warm streak (light colors) along an otherwise color swath (dark colors) from the pivot.

Excessive moisture can also have a significant impact on another fundamental part of sustainable agriculture; soil health. 

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Soil health

Another key component of soil health is the use of cover crops, manure, and tillage practices. NDVI imagery is an ideal tool for evaluating the effectiveness of these practices. Growers can set up trials and use NDVI imagery to see vigor variations that are not visible on the field level. This information can help growers develop the best possible soil management plan. Healthy soil is a critical component of sustainable agriculture. Soil needs to be nurtured and maintained to ensure its long-term productivity. Over-saturated soil caused by excessive irrigation and heavy rains can lead to soil compaction and nutrient leaching, both of which degrade soil quality. Overhead irrigation systems and heavy rains cause soil crusting, a type of soil compaction. Soil compaction leads to poor root health and prevents water from infiltrating deep into the soil. Compacted soil results in less efficient crop water use and often additional irrigation applications are needed to aid the growth of the crop. Excessive water can also wash out essential nutrients from the soil, which requires the application of more inputs to replenish it. High-resolution thermal imagery can help growers identify over saturated soil in their fields where they need to install drainage systems or amend inefficient systems.

The image above shows a field where a grower did an input trial to determine which products would improve the soil health in areas where the quality of soil was poor. The red spots in the field depict areas where the soil has high pH levels. This grower used different inputs in the northern part of the field and the southern part of the field to see which products improved the condition of the soil and produced a better crop. The imagery makes it clear that the inputs used in the northern part of the field improved the soil quality and delivered a better performing crop than the inputs used in the southern part of the field. 

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Ideal input rates

Similar to using NDVI imagery to identify the best soil management practices, it can also be used to identify the most productive input stack.

Once a grower has identified the best inputs and rates for their field, they can use NDVI imagery to define zones in their field that vary in yield potential. Growers can then apply more inputs to the areas that will respond to them, and less to poor performing areas where they will be wasted. Precision agriculture practices such as variable-rate planting and applications ensure the most efficient use of resources, allowing growers to produce more without waste. application rates. Growers can set up seed, nutrients, and other input trails and use NDVI imagery to determine the best performing product under various growing conditions.

The image to the right shows a corn field that is made up of multiple nitrogen test plots. TerrAvion users can draw zones and get and NDVI reading for any part of their field. Users can compare average NDVI values and NDVI histograms to determine the ideal input package to use in that field. 

Sustainable agriculture not only benefits the environment but growers as well. More efficient management practices allow growers to do more with less. For more information on how aerial imagery can help growers produce more efficiently and sustainably, please fill out the form below.

 

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