Satellite maps have come a long way

The farmer in Lanny Faleide knew there had to be better ways to understand the land and ways to market that type of information.

It was the early 1990s, the dawn of precision agriculture. After the droughts of the late 1980s, farmers were taking a keener interest in their soils. Reductions in tillage, new approaches to soil moisture management, improved fertilizer use and a trend to farm consolidation and its resulting increase in farm size created a need for information Faleide wanted to deliver.

Today, Satshot has become a pivotal player in remote sensing.

When Faleide was starting out, a few producers kept aerial photos of their fields. Others used government topographical maps to get a form of three dimensional views of their property. However, the latter were used mostly for drainage strategies.

Faleide developed some of the first software capable of creating variable rate maps for agricultural applications that used satellite imagery as a platform.

“The images are a great interface for farmers. The bird’s-eye view was easier to interpret and it allow(s) you to bring field knowledge, farm knowledge into the process,” said Faleide of Fargo, North Dakota.

In 1994, Faleide released his first mapping software, Agri ImaGIS Technologies’ Landscout.

In those days, transferring a file as large as a single, colour satellite image could take up to an hour for a fast 14,400 baud modem over a telephone line.

Faleide delivered satellite maps to his first farming customers by mail. The images were burned onto compact discs.

Using their farm computers, producers would run the Landscout program to create their mapping layers and develop application prescriptions from those, if they used them.

After a few years of this process, Agri ImaGIS made the move to the internet and one of the first cloud-based technologies, the University of Minnesota’s Mapserver system.

At the time it was more of a cartographic tool than a fully featured global information system, but it allowed Faleide to develop a system that stretched the limits of that technology and created the ability for his company, Agri ImaGIS, to house and access an historical satellite archive of farm fields that dates back to the 1980s in some areas.

Seven years ago the company created Mapcenter and that technology allowed users to map via internet web browser, accessing the historical and new field maps that Faleide was archiving.

Faleide followed that with Satshot 3D, allowing more advanced remote viewing and analysis opportunities, Landscout mobile for field use on tablet computers and other mobile platforms and new versions of Mapcenter and iCue Manager, a system for notifying producers when new satellite images become available.

Satshot is the online form of the business and the one that many producers recognize.

Faleide augments his Landsat collected images with the higher resolution Rapideye imagery. For an additional fee of between $1 and $1.50 per acre, farmers can access that company’s advanced red edge sensors, the light band that hovers between near infrared and the red spectrum, in addition to the high quality images.

Faleide says Satshot’s optional use of Rapideye’s five satellite constellation, with its ability to provide five meter resolution and pass over a farm once every six days, rather than 16 by Landsat, means that producers can get more detail and data more often.

In Western Canada and the northern Plains states, the short growing season offers few opportunities for a satellite view of a crop during its development and yield determinant phases.

Adding to that, the ability of a system to turn that image around fast enough to be able to take action that will result in higher yields makes Satshot’s premium product even more useful.

“Historical data and images are very useful in understanding and the getting the most out the land. But live images can take a producer to whole other place, if they have the capacity to put them to use,” said Faleide.

He said information reflected from crops in that light region is more useful because it can be more closely correlated to plant health and can help eliminate false readings from soil reflectance.

The red edge band can show off plant leaves’ cellular structures’ reflectance and the abundance of chlorophyll, with its ability to absorb light.

Satshot provides a variety of vegetation indices options. These include the normalized difference vegetation index red or green, known as NDVIR or G, the atmospherically resistant vegetation index, for regions where atmospheric aerosols interfere with reflections, called ARVI, and enhanced vegetation index, EVI. These can be obtained from the Landsat imagery.

The Rapideye service has more advanced NIR red edge, normalized difference vegetation index red edge, called NDVIRE, and modified normalized red edge, known as mNDVIRE.

The latest products from the Fargo company allow producers to access their maps online and in a standalone format, for times when they aren’t connected to the internet.

With the exception of the Rapideye mapping, all of the company’s services are available for an annual fee of about $700, with steep discounts for multi-year agreements.

Faleide’s company is releasing Landscout 2 and Mapcenter 3 next month.

Mapcenter allows producers to identify fields from the Satshot database. In some cases more than 20 different views of a field exist, dating back as far as 25 years.

Different crops reflect light differently, so producers can choose their preference for viewing their crops, such as NIR red or green, or one of the more advanced Rapideye views.

Analysis choices include being able to limit the number of management zones and assign values to them for the purposes of building prescription maps.

Data layering can be used for more than getting a field performance snapshot and building custom maps.

It can be used to track soil tests, manage irrigation and layer data such as as-applied records, seeding information and yield data from the combine.

Drainage and levelling strategies and tilling plans can be built using data from the system.

When Landscout comes out with a new version in May, it will add histogram analysis of maps in the field and allow users to automatically self locate and access a full set of satellite scenes while in the field, including the Rapideye images.

The Landscout performs analysis on the go and allows producers to make changes to custom maps while out of the office. This version lets users add a variety of records into the tablet application. All field activities can be added and scouting, soil test locations and photos can be captured on the iPhone or iPad and automatically tagged and dropped into the field record.

“We’ve added the iCue manager to the package. It instantly signals the user that new satellite images have been collected on your farm and are ready to view and analyze,” said Faleide.

For more information contact Faleide at 701-235-5767 or visit www.satshot.com.

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