Digging Deeper: Importance of Satellite Data & Topsoil for Sustainable Farming

Did you know that soil is eroding on average ten to forty times faster than it can replenish depending on the area of the world? And that our soil worldwide is becoming increasingly less fertile? Yet, these problems continue to be overlooked. As a result, farming productivity and crop yields are negatively impacted globally. Within the agriculture industry, everything has a ripple effect. If a farmer has less fertile soil, they will produce fewer crops, which drives up the prices you see in the grocery store due to supply and demand. The quality of soil greatly influences the health of plants and plays a vital role in increasing crop yields. Soil provides the essential nutrients, water, and diverse beneficial microbiome that plants depend on to grow. The amount of these essential nutrients present within the soil directly affects how nutritious the yield outputs will be. Unfortunately, we have lost 50% of our topsoil in the past 150 years, coupled with the remaining soil’s loss of nutrients and salinity problems. Soil and productive agricultural systems go hand in hand. Therefore, we must prioritize soil conservation and protect our soil from any damaging factors.

Some damaging factors to be concerned about include erosion, soil degradation, impacts of industrial agriculture, and outdated farming practices, to name a few. This growing list proves that soil remediation is essential to create sustainable agricultural production systems. At Dimitra technology, one of our primary goals is to help farmers around the world improve their soil quality through the use of satellite data. To reach farmers, Dimitra has created an accessible online platform called the “Connected Farmer” Platform.

Why is Soil Remediation essential?

About 95% of the world’s food is grown in topsoil. But, as we lose our soil, it becomes more challenging to produce enough food for our rapidly growing global population. There are two leading factors to blame for the exploitation of soil and its ecosystem, the impact of humans and climate change. Urban sprawl, deforestation, industrial agriculture, and the misuse of water resources are just some of the actions that humans are responsible for that degrade and erode our soils. In addition, climate change forces farmers to adapt to unexpected environmental changes that can result in significant damages and profit losses. For example, climate change can accelerate how fast soil will dry, which can lead to drought conditions and affect the overall crop yield.

Plain and simple, unhealthy soil produces unhealthy plants. When a farmer tries to improve their soil health, it often leads to a pattern of the heavy use of chemical fertilizers, which is a costly and unsustainable farming practice. Not to mention, these chemicals are toxic and pose health risks to humans involved in the application process. Additionally, human-led agricultural practices, like over-irrigating, can damage the soil and its natural ecosystem. For example, humans excessively withdrew water from the Aral Sea in Uzbekistan for irrigation purposes, to the point that it dried up. Making more sustainable and conscious decisions about how we are using soil will benefit not only us, but also future generations.

Use Case:

By 2050, we will need to feed 9.7 billion people worldwide. The agriculture industry of India supports 18% of the world’s human population and 15% of the livestock population. All the while, the population of India is continuing to grow at an increasing rate; it is becoming more and more difficult to supply food to the world while also supporting their people.

Dimitra has partnered with the OBC Indian Chamber of Commerce, Industries, and Agriculture. This partnership collects and analyzes data using the “Connected Farmer” Platform to support and benefit 1.3 million smallholder farmers in India. This application will connect farmers with global agriculture experts and help to discover more innovative ways to farm. Dimitra will utilize technologies like sensors, mobile technology, Internet of Things (IoT), and artificial intelligence to collect data and work with the farmers to target the dynamic problem in the soil.

Lets Dig Deeper

By breaking down the science behind how these technologies can help these farmers in India, we can better understand the impact on farmers across the world. Remote sensors such as satellites collect information provided in a simplified manner through the Dimitra Connected Farmer application. This data can provide insights to farmers so they can make better-informed decisions every day. These satellites provide high-resolution views of the soil that allow the farmer to see if their soil is healthy or contaminated. Dimitra collects and analyzes data with its technologies to provide more sustainable solutions to keep our soils healthy.

Figure 1: The image above shows the difference between what salt-affected soils look like compared to healthy soils. Similarly, this shows how the eroded and contaminated soils vary from the healthy soils. Image source: Soil health management using remote sensing
Figure 2: This image shows the assessment of soil properties through satellite imagery. The soil properties are visualized through variations in spectra across electromagnetic bands. Image source: Soil degradation due to salinity in the USA from 1980 to 2018

So, What Does This Mean?

Dimitra’s Connected Farmer platform holds a promising role in sustainable solutions for soil remediation. So far, Dimitra has collaborated with more than 60 countries to assist smallholder farmers. Dimitra focuses on soil remediation through the application of mobile, artificial intelligence, and machine learning technology. They hope to provide their technology to 100 million smallholder farmer users in the next three years. These farmers will be able to register their farm on Dimitra’s connected farmer application platform to provide them with actionable data and farming solutions that will allow them to make informed decisions about their farming practices. Once their farm is registered, they can keep their farm, soil, crops, and livestock records all in one place. Dimitra’s commercial sensors are a user-friendly method for farmers to collect valuable data and provide them with helpful solutions. Dimitra has ambitious and impactful goals and is hoping to make a difference in the lives of many.

Sources for further reading

Olena Dubovyk (2017) The role of Remote Sensing in land degradation assessments: opportunities and challenges, European Journal of Remote Sensing, 50:1, 601–613, DOI: 10.1080/22797254.2017.1378926

Gholizadeh, A., Saberioon, M., Ben-Dor, E., & Borůvka, L. (2018). Monitoring of selected soil contaminants using proximal and remote sensing techniques: Background, state-of-the-art and future perspectives. Critical Reviews in Environmental Science and Technology, 48(3), 243–278. DOI:10.1080/10643389.2018.1447717

“Soil is being eroded away ten to forty times faster than it can be replenished” http://large.stanford.edu/courses/2015/ph240/verso2/

“We have lost 50% of our topsoil in the past 150 years”

https://www.worldwildlife.org/threats/soil-erosion-and-degradation

Our mission is to partner with developing nations to make agricultural technologies more accessible to farmers. https://dimitra.io