PUTTING REMOTE-SENSING DATA TO WORK FOR FARMERS
BY KRISTINA POLZIEHN
Nuffield Canada’s main mission is to foster agricultural leadership and personal development through international travel and study. Each year, Nuffield Canada awards three or four scholarships to Canadian individuals with a passion for agriculture, for the sole purpose of travel and study.
As a recipient of a 2017 Nuffield Canada Scholarship, funded through the Alberta Wheat Commission (AWC), I feel fortunate and ecstatic to be among the winners. It is humbling to have the Nuffield Canada community and AWC recognize and support my passion for agriculture and desire for learning.
There are several avenues to conduct applied research in Canada, most through traditional research programs. However, independent agronomists like myself are sometimes inspired by questions that cannot always be answered through these conventional avenues.
The Nuffield Canada Scholarship is a unique learning opportunity to travel abroad while studying and networking with individuals who share a similar passion for agriculture. Scholarship recipients are given a chance to transfer knowledge and foster new ideas that benefit Canadian farmers. Through collaborations and study abroad, we can work to advance research and innovation in our own Canadian agriculture industry.
Many of us in agriculture learn by doing. Therefore, when we can share with others our experiences of success and failure with new agricultural practices or technologies—no matter which part of the world we call home—everyone in agriculture benefits. Access to a lifelong global learning network like the Nuffield community is an experience unlike any applied research program in Canada.
When I began my crop consulting business, Axiom Agronomy Ltd., two years ago, I was excited to incorporate remote sensing into my business plan. Remote sensing is the science and art of acquiring information about our environment or the surface of the Earth using sensors on airborne or space-borne platforms. I became interested in the technology and the science behind it, as it proved to be a field that would have important agronomic applications.
Recently, most of the excitement surrounding remote sensing in agriculture has been directed at the acquisition of data through drones and the selection of sensors that can be placed onboard. Unfortunately, processing and interpreting the information collected by these sensors has not been met with the same enthusiasm.
Over the last two years, I have worked closely with AgPixel, LLC, a company in Johnston, Iowa, that specializes in processing and analyzing aerial imagery. I quickly gained an immense appreciation for the complexity of processing and analyzing remotely sensed data. During that time, I also learned how progressive the United States has become regarding the use of remote sensing in agriculture, especially compared with Canada. This begged an important question: What is the rest of the world doing?
For the duration of my Nuffield Canada Scholarship, I will study applications of remote sensing in agriculture, with a focus on crop production in areas with intensive agriculture similar to Canada, such as Australia, South America and Europe. I will focus on all three features of remote-sensing science—the acquisition, processing and interpretation of remotely sensed data.
One main objective will be to identify key advantages and disadvantages of acquiring remotely sensed data through manned and unmanned aircraft and satellites. Additionally, I will aim to identify sensors and their data-processing requirements in order to provide valuable information to farmers.
Information is power. Having the right tools for collecting data, along with the right processing techniques, can provide useful and relevant information. Equally important will be determining how to interpret the data and put it to work for farmers. A key objective, and possibly the most important part of the project, will be to identify practical applications for remotely sensed data and learn how it has been used in other parts of the globe—either on farms or as part of research programs that provide direct benefits to farmers.
It seems fitting that while remote sensing technologies allow us to view and process our world in many new ways, our industry has a supportive partner like Nuffield Canada that provides new ways to study agriculture.