Determining Soil Organic Content With Satellites
Soil Organic Carbon (SOC), which is proportional to the soil organic matter content of soil, is important for ensuring sustainable agriculture. SOC impacts crops by improving the chemical, biological, and physical properties of soil, as well as its structural stability and water-holding capacity.
At Dimitra we are developing innovative methods for calculating SOC using satellite data, as determining SOC is essential for farming efficiently and in an environmentally friendly and sustainable way..
For the past several years, various techniques for soil organic content monitoring, and soil organic matter prediction models (e.g. based on satellite hyperspectral data), have been used to calculate soil health and fast-track remediation efforts so farmers may maximize crop yield. Current methods rely on outdated data and approaches.
At Dimitra, we’re always interested in what’s possible, including how to get the world’s best technology into the hands of farmers worldwide. Our latest breakthrough in measuring soil organic content with satellites is proving to be a fresh horizon of possibilities, and here’s what it’s all about.
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Spectroscopy is a proven science that refers to the study of the absorption and emission of (artificial or sun) light and other radiation by matter. In agriculture, a spectrometer can be used to capture the reflectance of a wide range of electromagnetic (light) waves from the soil surface. The spectrometer is first calibrated by correlating the reflectance from a soil surface of known soil properties, including SOC, Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium. Once calibrated, the spectrometer can be used to measure the soil properties of other similar farms.
This technique for monitoring the soil properties can be used in three ways:
- On the ground, with ground-based spectrometers mounted on backpacks, motorcycles, etc.
- In the air with spectrometers mounted on drones and airplanes
- In space by using spectrometers mounted on satellites
Dimitra’s latest efforts leverage spectrometry with satellite data. We chose this approach because it allows vast land coverage and is both efficient and affordable. Analyses from this data can help small farmers around the world how to best use and/or correct their soils.
A Challenge to Spectroscopy for SOC
Unfortunately, there is basically one satellite that has adequate sensors for using traditional spectroscopy. This satellite, known as Hyperion, is no longer in service.
The team at Dimitra has worked out a way to use the data from the many other satellites, which is a good start. However, unlike Hyperion, these satellites do not detect a very broad and continuous range of electromagnetic waves to determine the soil properties.
To overcome that challenge, Dimitra has developed proprietary methods for using the data from the other satellites, which only detect discrete bands of wavelengths, to determine the soil properties. This innovation will allow us to help small farmers worldwide in determining their soil properties, and thus manage their soil and agriculture more efficiently.
Dimitra’s Breakthrough in Satellite Technology for SOC
We are now able to use current satellites, with current sensors, to collectively extrapolate and artificially contribute to data about the entirety of the spectrum of electromagnetic waves. This has essentially given us the ability to map soil organic content using fresh, real time data.
There are several reasons this particular approach is important and effective.
First, capturing data across a broad electromagnetic spectrum is vital. The spectral response patterns of different types of matter vary significantly. Knowing the typical spectral response traits of different types of matter makes it possible to determine from a satellite the soil properties of vast regions.
This therefore can help a farmer whose crops are failing for unknown reasons by providing insights on the possible reasons of the poor performance. For instance, spectroscopy provides insight into soil properties, including organic content, soil moisture content, texture, iron oxide content, soil nutrients content and carbon.
Making those data points visible was the overarching benefit of this approach, but you can already see why timeliness is vital: observing major fluctuations in moisture or minerals, pests or absorption, is only relevant if a farmer knows about it at the time it is happening, and can react accordingly.
There are vast advantages to seeing beyond the visible spectrum, which is why our team of researchers has been laser-focused on finding a solution. Layering spectral response patterns, viewing them with a color-coded key, and beginning to observe trends and deviations is truly game changing.
Here’s what this game-changing tool looks like for…
…Other Satellite Analytics Features
The beauty of this solution is that it has additional components and benefits to farmers. In addition to determining soil organic content, our approach of aggregating various data points from various satellites also defines other key parameters for agriculture, including those shown in the images below.
Visualizing Water Stress
…Visualizing Temperature Stress
…Measuring Vegetation Condition Index (VCI)
Timely, relevant data presented in a way that makes sense to farmers. This is what we’ve created, and what we’re greenlighting in a new partnership project.
Dimitra Initial Project: Supporting Safflower Production With Satellite Tech in India
To put our innovations to good use, Dimitra will deploy our new tool for determining soil organic content with satellite technology to a large group of farmers in India. In partnership with the OBC Chamber of Agriculture and Commerce. They will planting Safflower on thousands of hectares of land. After proof of concept, the project is set to scale to millions of farmers and dozens of additional crops.
Safflower was a choice reviewed by Dimitra, which found that safflower will work well for that specific region and soil. Our goal is never to just increase production (quantity) without increasing value (quality). Safflower is also the right choice for this project because it is a good plant for capturing CO2 from the atmosphere. The carbon credits available to these Indian farmers could be an impactful additional source of income..
To start, the Dimitra team will be on deck in an advisory capacity to help determine the soil organic matter in different regions of the pilot land. In an ongoing role, our team will complement the analysis by helping farmers on a weekly or even daily basis as we use satellite technology.
As we gather the highest possible quality data on what is occurring in the soil, our technology will pick up and relay all of the right information, providing visibility into factors like humidity, carbon issues, pests, and more. Data-driven insights shed light on problems and irregularities, as well as providing timely alerts to farmers for how to respond to identified problems.
With satellite technology, farmers can learn the best time to plant, the best time to harvest, and monitor the growth of plants through various seasons, determining the soil organic content over time. This will make it clear whether a single farm or even an entire region is improving or degrading, and alert to the need for course-correction before it is too late.
Maximizing Soil Organic Matter… All Around the World
The beautiful thing about this development is that it works anywhere in the world. Farmers in India, farmers in Africa, farmers in Asia: any and everyone can benefit from the application of this satellite technology.
All of us are operating with the dual goals of maximizing yields, quality, and profits as well as maximizing carbon sequestration and minimizing risks. Dimitra’s new satellite technology platform provides an “eye in the sky,” meticulously evaluating the land and giving smallholder farmers an elevated ability to practice precision farming.