Bluesky aerial photomaps help outfield reveal secrets to farm management

Ultra high resolution aerial photography and 3D landscape models from Bluesky are helping Outfield Technologies develop innovative image recognition techniques to improve agricultural land management and crop production. In addition to the pioneering research project, the Bluesky data is also providing estate managers with up to date and accurate mapping for subsidy applications, planning proposals and corroboration of existing data and reports.

Supported by the Eastern Agri-Tech Growth Initiative, with funding from the UK Government Local Growth Fund, Outfield commissioned Bluesky to capture 7,000 hectares of 5 centimetre resolution photography. Covering farmed land, environmental focus areas and woodland, on a large estate in East Anglia the detailed record of land usage and crop types, for example, is helping with the development of machine learning algorithms to accurately identify features across different datasets and landscapes.

“We use a host of analysis software including off the shelf, open source and proprietary packages on our platform to derive useful data from drone images and more traditional aerial survey data,” commented Jim McDougall, Commercial Director of Outfield Technologies. “By combining neural networks for image recognition with the Bluesky data we’re developing an automated classification process to help improve decision making for a range of applications.”

Bluesky also supplied Outfield with a photogrammetrically derived 3D model of the estate, a Digital Surface Model or DEM, which includes the earth’s surface or terrain and landscape features including buildings and vegetation.

“This is a funded research project with a high profile,” continued McDougall, “and there were also great expectations from the estate for the deliverables derived from the Bluesky data. With little margin for error, it was important that our data collection partner fulfilled not only in terms of competitive pricing but also in quality of data and responsiveness of service. Bluesky delivered on all fronts.”

This land assessment tool is being trialled to add to Outfield’s existing horticulture management systems. Outfield is a technology company delivering plant level image services for field vegetable growers and orchard producers. By providing these growers with useful information derived from aerial imagery, Outfield helps to improve yield forecasting and sales, maximise outputs and identify problems within a crop.

Outfield’s surveying services can offer significant savings compared to traditional foot surveys and the data can be integrated with farm management systems for recording hedgerows and field boundaries, tackling field margin encroachment, precise measurement of net farmed and cropped areas and assessment of woodland areas.

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About The Author

John Swire - Deputy editor of Agronomist and Arable Farmer as well as responsibility for the Agronomist and Arable Farmer and Farm Business websites. After 17 years milking cows on the family farm John started writing about agriculture in 1998 and has since written for a variety of publications and has developed a wide circle of contacts within the industry. When not working John is a season ticket holder at Stoke City and also of late has become a fitness freak, listing cycling, swimming and walking as his exercises of choice.