Using Satellite Imagery to Address Global Agricultural Challenges
Drones, satellites, and GPS systems may sound more like something out of a James Bond spy movie than tools to enhance agricultural systems. However, precision agriculture is currently bringing these space age technologies to the farm where they are ushering in a new "smart ag" era as population growth and climate change are forcing farmers to be smarter about how they use the land they cultivate.
Information that leads to more efficient use of resources, increased yields, and sustainable systems is a major agricultural focus and much of this big data is coming from high above our heads. Michigan State University (MSU) Foundation Professor Dr. Bruno Basso and his team are leaders in precision ag innovation. In the simplest terms, they are “detecting the health of crops from the sky,” says Dr. Basso. “We analyze the information recorded by satellites to monitor the growth of the plants and to improve the yields through better crop management.”
Basso’s project is specifically looking at smallholder farmer legume fields in West Africa and Central America. One of the research goals is to identify the best source of imagery platform to detect changes within the fields that occur over time. “Satellites orbit in space about 20.000 miles from the earth. Their imagery, which vary in frequency and spatial resolution depending on different type of satellites, provide the opportunity to monitor large agricultural areas and to understand potential causes of low productivity. For instance, a time management practice could help improve the productivity in smallholder farmers’ fields in the developing countries,” says Basso.
With nearly 10 billion people to feed by 2050 and much of this population growth projected in developing countries, the more information small holder farmers can learn about their land and crops, the more efficient they can become in producing more food on less land. One example uses satellite imaging to detect and map drought-vulnerable areas, leading farmers to focus on potentially higher-yielding farmland requiring fewer natural resources.
The Basso Digital Agronomy Lab is composed of graduate students, post-docs and staff, all driven by the same passion and goal; to help produce more food sustainably using advanced technologies, but made simple for wide adoption globally. Lin Liu, a Ph.D. student working on this project explains what motivates her research. “I was first intrigued by the new knowledge I gained through analyzing spatial and time-series agronomic and climatic data when I was studying under Dr. Basso’s guidance in my master degree program. Then I developed a passion for developing innovative agricultural technology to solve food insecurity problems,” Liu says.
The project is funded through the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Legume Systems Research.