New technology innovation to transform farm imaging

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The introduction of the UK’s first truly cloud-free imagery service is set to deliver an unparalleled level of accuracy to field scouting, variable-rate application practices and other precision farming activities.

ClearSky, which will be exclusively available to Agrii and RHIZA customers through the Contour platform, removes the reliance on regular Sentinel 2 satellite images, which until now have been relied upon by all farmers in the UK, regardless of their provider.

The ClearSky product is the result of a collaborative project between RHIZA, Origin Digital and a leading technology partner and produces full-spectrum optical and infrared imagery, including NDVI and GCVI from synthetic-aperture radar (SAR) data. It removes the previous reliance on optical images needing a clear line of sight.

This innovation means that farmers using ClearSky are guaranteed to receive an image showing them how their crop is developing every six days, whatever the weather. This is in contrast to traditional, weather-dependent imagery which can often have gaps of several weeks between cloud-free views.

Regular reliable image every six days

“As SAR data passes through clouds, this means that for the first time, we will be able to guarantee our customers a regular, reliable image every six days, all-year-round,” says David Langton, Head of R&D at Origin Digital.

“Unlike other ‘cloud-free’ derivatives, ClearSky does not rely on intermittent clear optical imagery to calibrate predicted changes. This enables a greater degree of confidence in the data we are supplying to customers,” he adds.

Service evaluation has involved Agrii agronomists, Origin R&D and RHIZA account managers, helping the provider to refine and develop their models and shape the final product. Across the 6000+ images assessed in the process, the correlation with Sentinel optical imagery has been excellent and proven that ClearSky can be used for field scouting and variable rate planning.

The first imagery product of its kind to use artificial imagery, ClearSky will enable growers to match the application of inputs such as fertiliser with crop growth.

Plan applications more accurately

Sam Fordham, head of technical at RHIZA said: “ClearSky will enable our growers to scout and plan their fertiliser applications more effectively, efficiently and sustainably than has been possible before.”

“Given how quickly crops develop during the peak of spring, one of the cloudiest seasons of the year, being reliant on regular Sentinel 2 images meant there was a high risk that fertiliser applications would be less than optimal. ClearSky greatly reduces that risk meaning users can target nitrogen applications to when they will be most economically worthwhile,” says Mr Fordham.

Analysis by Agrii reveals that the Sentinel 2 system produced, on average, roughly 13.3 clear images per farm in 2021. Using the ClearSky platform increased this to 60.8. This is improved further if the cloud-free images captured by Sentinel 2 are included.

“The UK is predominantly a cloudy country. During March 2021, 68% of the farms serviced by RHIZA hadn’t received a clear image for more than 10 days. This serves to hinder the development of precision farming tools. ClearSky removes that barrier and will enable the advancement of a raft of new services,” says Jon Greenman, commercial manager at RHIZA.

“This is a hugely exciting development because it provides dependable images on a regular basis, two attributes missing from other imagery services. This will enable UK farmers to further optimise the application of fertiliser and other inputs to improve yields endorse their sustainability credentials,” he adds.

ClearSky will be available to all Agrii customers on the Contour platform from the end of March.

 

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About Author

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 an avid follower of Stoke City.