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Space age farming

Soil mapping

Come harvest time, fields of abundant crops are a sign of a little good luck and favourable soil dynamics. While they can’t plan for luck, today’s farmers increasingly can count on a wealth of information to forecast crop yields and boost their success. That information comes from Earth-observation satellites such as RADARSAT-1 and RADARSAT-2, operated by the Canadian Space Agency and MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates.

RADARSAT-2, for example, provides data at resolutions down to one metre. Agricultural planners armed with imagery generated from such data can map crop characteristics over large areas and track changes in soil conditions. Using information from satellites, for instance, Canadian government scientists have developed soil-drainage and permeability-classification models and maps. Mapping soil drainage from Earth-observation data is now faster, more precise and less expensive than conventional soil-survey procedures.

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RADARSAT also helps farmers develop better land-management practices by providing data on crop residue after harvest. Different crops leave varying amounts and types of residue cover on soil, which can greatly affect soil health and the risk of erosion.

To supplement the work of RADARSAT, the Canadian Space Agency has partnered with the European Space Agency on the SMOS (Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity) Earth-observation satellite. Through data that are interpreted into a map, SMOS provides a global image of soil moisture to a depth of one to two metres, known as the root zone. Generated every three days, the SMOS global maps are highly precise, comparable to detecting one teaspoon of water mixed into a handful of soil.


This piece shows how satellite images help agricultural planners assess crop characteristics and planting practices, make crop-yield predictions and more. Animations show how satellites can detect microwave radiation from the Earth’s surface, which can be used to create global maps depicting soil moisture.


On the next page:

Agriculture management

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Quiz :

What is the name of the system that farmers can use to view data on every square metre of their land?