How Precision Agriculture Can Change Farming’s Financial Landscape

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It’s not surprising that agricultural technology, and in particular, precision agriculture are becoming crucial tools in a farmer’s arsenal. In order to boost productivity and profitability, farmer’s need to carefully manage where they invest their time and resources. New technologies are making this possible at a scale never before possible. 

During Zambia’s first harvest in May 2018, Derek Nicolle, General Manager of Agrivision Zambia – Mkushi Estates, who grows soy, wheat, and maize on 3,000 hectares, was experiencing unnoticed irrigation issues. He managed to avert a critical loss, equivalent to about 15 percent of the field’s yield—thanks to his decision to work with RHIZA, an agtech company that allows farmers to monitor and manage their crops in-season. With the use of Planet’s high frequency satellite imagery, Nicolle was able to properly monitor irrigation effectiveness and detected an error early in the growing season. 

Below are sample outputs from RHIZA’s app, Contour. You can see an image presented with a vegetation index that is color coded to indicate crop health – red indicates lower vegetation and green indicates higher vegetation. The two sections show different periods of the growing season. The dark red circle in the left image is from early in the growing season, when the RHIZA app detected an anomaly. Some of the irrigation nozzles had been replaced prior to the season with the incorrect nozzle aperture. With the early alert, Nicolle was able to take immediate action and see significant improvements in just a matter of weeks. The right image shows the improvement with the crop emerging and maturing, as shown by the greening fields. However, there are still remaining signs of the earlier damage seen in the yellow and red inner circle.

Imagery from RHIZA’s Contour app showing irrigation errors and changes over time after farmer took action to manage the field // Credit: RHIZA

“The irrigation error we experienced was not visible to the naked eye,” says Nicolle, referring to vegetation indices that leverage the invisible, near-infrared spectral band. “With the most cutting-edge digital agronomy tools, we were able to pick up on the error early enough in the growing cycle to fix the problem.”

Aerial photograph of the field showing how the irrigation errors appear in a true-color image. May 25, 2018 // Credit: RHIZA

“Using Planet’s constellation of satellites, we get a nine-fold higher resolution than other providers. It also means a revisit time of 1.5 days against a 7 days standard. We can provide even greater value to the farmer by layering in additional data sources like weather and soil data, as well as additional spectral bands from publicly available Sentinel imagery,” says Rachel Watling, Marketing and Key Account Manager, AgSpace

With RHIZA’s Contour app, users can make data-driven decisions from satellite imagery to scout for early presence of pests, weeds, and diseases, and assess variations in soils for effective nutrient management. Already in use on over 500,000 hectares in the UK alone, and over 1 million hectares across Europe and Africa, RHIZA brings together years of research with precision farming expertise.

Contour is enabling farmers to make more informed decisions with Planet data, which is especially useful for agriculture because of its 3-5 meter resolution and high frequency, as well as its global reach and scalability. With Planet’s broad area coverage, powered by a constellation of over 100 satellites in orbit, RHIZA can expand its products and services to new global markets.