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Satellite Imagery: Apps & Buying Tips

DEALERS EXPECT satellite imagery to be the biggest growth area in precision farming, with 33% of dealers expecting to offer the service by 2011, according to a Crop Life survey. That's up from 24% in 2009. Jude Kastens, assistant research professor at the Kansas Applied Remote Sensing Program, University of Kansas, lists the following top applications for remote sensing:


  1. Creating field-management zones for site-specific management
  2. Monitoring plant health for in-season, site-specific nutrient prescription map development
  3. Crop scouting for targeted scouting and herbicide applications
  4. Post-disaster (hail, flood) damage assessment and mapping
  5. Topographic mapping for site-specific management and drainage assessment
  6. Database development for field trials and on-farm research


  1. Land surveys — cropland mapping, typing and inventory
  2. Crop condition monitoring
  3. Crop yield forecasting
  4. Drought monitoring, mapping and damage assessment
  5. Post-disaster (hail, flood) damage assessment and mapping
  6. Productivity estimation for rangeland and pasture insurance
  7. Monitoring government program and insurance compliance
  8. Environmental monitoring (for example, Amazon deforestation, grassland conversion)
  9. Identifying trends in agriculture (for example, changing crop types, reduction in fallow, single to double cropping, urban encroachment)
  10. Estimating biomass for carbon industry


Kastens recommends asking these questions when shopping for a satellite imagery provider:

WHAT TYPE of satellite or aerial imagery do you offer — spectral bands of near-infrared, red, green, blue; or band combinations such as Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) or green NDVI?

HOW WILL the information be delivered (paper, DVD, e-mail, online via an Internet Web site, mobile access)?

HOW MUCH does it cost? What does the cost include (management zone creation, site-specific nutrient assessment/recommendations)?

WHAT OTHER services do you provide?

FOR AERIAL imagery, how often are images shot? For corn and soybeans, one to three timely images per season should be adequate for most purposes, depending on the cost-benefit.

FOR SATELLITE imagery, what is the revisit time? Imaging satellites are usually on a fixed overflight schedule and thus more susceptible to problems with clouds obstructing the view of the land.

HOW IS the image formatted? For convenience, look for image formatting and preprocessing that allow the image data to be used “out of the box” with whatever GIS/imaging software you are using.

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