Monitoring Grassland By Satellite

Back in 2019 we were involved in a pilot project which investigated the potential of using satellite remote sensing to inform grassland management and predict grass yield in Wales. Things have moved on since then but the reasons for wanting to do this have not really changed. Grass is an essential crop in livestock production, and grazed grass is the cheapest and most efficient form of feed on a farm. When managed well, inputs and production costs can be reduced, boosting profit margins.

Measuring and monitoring grass growth enables the farmer to improve quality and maximise yield, and make decisions about stocking, grazing rotation and fertiliser applications. On smaller farms this is achieved with a rising plate meter which measures the growth and quantity of available ‘Dry Matter’ per hectare (DM/ha). It is a very labour intensive and time-consuming process so the attraction of using data from satellites which pass over the farms every 6 days is plain to see. In the pilot project Environment Systems developed an algorithm that can predict average grass cover (Kg DM/Ha) to develop a ‘hands free’ online tool to help farmers estimate average grass cover. The algorithm uses radar data, chosen for its ability to penetrate cloud cover and then provide consistent data readouts over time.

Plate meter versus satellite data
Fields measured and modelled track well over time
Since that time, we have proved that the technology is transferable to other regions. We have been using radar data in Colombia where persistent cloud cover prevents the use of more traditional optical satellites. The consistent source of data over time is helping farmers to manage their grazing grassland more efficiently.

We have also proved that the technology is scalable. We have been successfully monitoring grassland on a 50,000ha farm in New South Wales, Australia. These are exciting developments because we now know that our technology is both transferable and scalable which means that it can be applied to farms previously considered too large for routine use of a plate meter. Starting out in a small pilot project in Wales less than eighteen months ago we have now proved the efficacy of satellite data for monitoring grassland within a single field or across entire continents!

In November Caron Pugh one of Senior Consultants presented the findings of our research in the Precision Livestock Farming And Sensing Technology In Extensive Grassland Systems Webinar run by the BSAS (British Society of Animal Science). His presentation is now available on YouTube or you can access the whole webinar here.