‘Agronomists from outer-space with SmartFarm’

Matt McIntosh
Your fields are being watched from outer-space – or they could be for a fee, anyway.

Simplot – one of the largest privately-owned agricultural businesses in the world – has partnered with Airbus, a world-striding civilian and military aeronautical manufacturer, to develop an on-demand, satellite-based agronomy service called 'SmartFarm'.

Airbus satellites

Using a range of Airbus satellites, the service is designed to allow farmers access to all the information they need to find and fix problems in their fields.

In a recent webinar describing the SmartFarm service, Mark Davis, one of Simplot’s regional American managers for the programme, described its capability as “delivering data-driven agronomy on every acre” from winter scouting to harvest – and it’s all done via photographs taken by orbiting Airbus satellites.

Photo credit: Airbus
Photo credit: Airbus

According to Davis and his Airbus counterpart, the satellite-based SmartFarm programme can identify pest pressure, moisture conditions, nutrient problems, determine yield maps, and other agronomic titbits commonly associated with other crop scouting methods.

So what’s the difference?

SmartFarm is an on-demand service that can continually track and compare field data using high-resolution imaging on an almost daily basis, and can be applied to a range of 65 different crops as diverse as corn, hops, and nuts.

To access this service, Davis says growers first enroll through Simplot’s automated online interface. Once logged in, they make a request covering what field(s) they want to see, and in what resolution and frequency they want to see them; that frequency can range wildly, from once a month or growing season to several times each week. Based on the specifications provided, the grower then receives detailed field maps right to their computer or mobile device through a simple, user-friendly interface.

Due to the number of active satellites in orbit and frequency of photo sessions taken from said satellites, however, users can receive images of their fields in as little as 24 hours.

Questions about limitations on SmartFarm

Handy as this sounds, though, questions about limitations inevitably arise.

First, getting online can be a significant barrier for farmers who do not have access to half-decent internet connections. Indeed, internet access in rural Canada has been frequently cited as a significant barrier for the more widespread adoption of cloud-based agronomy programs. While Davis and his Airbus counterpart made no mention of this subject, it is conceivable that the issue might be relevant to some producers.

Building on this is the fact that Simplot’s service is only available within what Davis refers to as “Simplot’s geography,” or the area in which Simplot has the ability to actively manage this service (namely the western and more central parts of the continental United States). Still, he says this is in part because Simplot philosophy still believes in using agronomists, or what Davis refers to as “boots on the ground” in tandem with all data systems.

Regional pricing

As for cost, no definitive answers were provided. Instead, Davis says the service is “a real cost effective solution” based on “regional pricing”.

Regardless of unanswered questions, the idea that on-demand satellite imaging could be used to precisely compare and contrast conditions in a specific field in real-time is an interesting one. The trick, assuming one has the ability to access it, is if one can make that information pay.

Or register to be able to comment.