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The value of satellite imaging for oil palm and rice

The value of satellite imaging for oil palm and rice

By Sam Lavender, Pixalytics

Pixalytics Ltd is leading the generation of products from satellite imagery for EcoProMIS. Although satellites can cost a lot to build and launch, once in space, they have the advantage of continuously collecting data.

Satellite Lifetimes

Many satellite missions last much longer than their designed lifetime, which is typically five years, although they can go wrong, and then it is not easy to fix them. A successful mission includes Landsat-8 that was launched in February 2013 and continues to operate, with Landsat-9 planned for launch in 2023.

One of the longest-lived optical satellite missions is CHRIS/Proba-1 that has been collecting data for nearly 20 years.

In contrast, WorldView-4 was launched in November 2016 and the gyros failed in January 2019 and prevented the spacecraft from pointing accurately. The manufacturer said that while efforts are continuing to restore the spacecraft, “Maxar believes that WorldView-4 will likely not be recoverable and will no longer produce usable imagery.”

Unlike the Hubble Space Telescope, which was serviced by astronauts from the International Space Stations (ISS), polar-orbiting Earth Observation (EO) satellites tend to be orbiting at an altitude almost twice that of the ISS; at around 700-800 km. The exception is the smaller satellites, called CubeSats, that are orbiting at lower altitudes and have been deployed from the ISS. The disadvantage of this lower orbit is that these CubeSats do not have the power to maintain their orbit’s altitude, and so they burn up within the Earth’s atmosphere within a few years.

Data Collection

For EcoProMIS, we are using free-to-access datasets for the baseline data collection: the European Union’s Copernicus Sentinel missions alongside the U.S. Geological Survey/NASA Landsat-8 mission.

These missions are termed free-to-access as anyone can download and process this data. Still, some practicalities include understanding what has been collected, where to get the data and how to handle it. Therefore, Pixalytics continually processes the satellite data to generate near-real-time products that are made available to EcoProMIS.

An example shown below is the classification of land cover using Sentinel-1 and -2.

EcoProMIS Land Cover Classification, data courtesy of Copernicus/ESA.


The satellite-derived products are focused on understanding the health, growth, and potential yield of the crops alongside greenhouse gases. Sentinel-1 provides microwave data that can see through clouds and detect the roughness of a surface, with Sentinel-2 offering high resolution (circa 10 m) optical data and Sentinel-5P calculating the concentration of atmospheric gases.

Landsat-8 compliments Sentinel-2 by providing high resolution optical and thermal data. The satellite products are combined with the UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, or drone) products and ground collected phenological/gas measurements to give the best estimation of what is happening.

For a rice field, below is a comparison of what is seen by the UAV (left) and satellite (right) data. The UAV data is of a higher spatial resolution (smaller pixel size) compared to the satellite imagery and is taken closer to the ground so is affected less by the effects of the atmosphere. For satellite data, 50% of the signal can come from the atmosphere, and so it is vital to remove this accurately.

Once the atmospheric effects are removed, both the UAV and satellite imagery have the same algorithms applied. They can then be compared to understand the accuracy of the atmospheric correction and increased error caused by the satellite instrument’s larger pixels.

EcoProMIS UAV and Sentinel-2 RGB pseudo true colour product comparison, data courtesy of Copernicus/ESA for Sentinel-2.


Why Both Satellite and UAV

The advantage of the satellite over the UAV data is that we can assemble a time-series plot. An example of this is shown below for the Leaf Area Index (LAI) product, with the higher values being for when the crop is fully grown.

Time-Series plot of LAI, input data courtesy of Copernicus/ESA and USGS/NASA.



By using the satellite data and tracking over time the LAI, we can create models to predict the yield when the crop is harvested, and by comparing it to the crop modelling outputs, we can understand whether interventions can be undertaken to improve the future crop yield.

It is this combination of satellite data and UAV data, together with ground-based agricultural data and modelling that provides the full picture for EcoProMIS. By combining these multiple data sources in our cutting-edge platform, EcoProMIS will be providing knowledge services on mobile apps to growers, allowing growers to make more informed management choices about their crops and land. It is quite something to be using space technology to contribute to the project’s goal of supporting sustainable agriculture.


Technology, cooperation and a lot of rice!

Technology, cooperation and a lot of rice!

By Andrea Melissa Sanchez and Leidy Avila, Fedearroz

Why do we grow rice?

In Colombia, rice is a staple food in our diet, it is important for the family basket, and at the same time for the national economy. The average annual consumption is 42.2 kilograms per person.

The rice activity in the country is developed in 210 municipalities of 23 departments. This productive chain generates nearly 410,000 direct and indirect jobs and represents about 0.4% of the national Gross Domestic Product and about 5% of the agricultural GDP.

The country is divided into five rice growing areas (Centro, Llanos Orientales, Bajo Cauca, Santanderes y Costa Norte) and is produced under two systems. The first is the rain-fed system, in which the water used comes from the rains. The second is the irrigation system, in which the water is supplied by irrigation.

On average, in the rain-fed system the yield is 4.19 tons of dry paddy per year, and under irrigated conditions around 5.65 tons.


With the aim of promoting the development of rice cultivation in Colombia, FEDEARROZ is the National Federation of Rice Growers of Colombia. Since 1947, it has existed to support and give union representation to affiliated producers. In addition, FEDEARROZ offers certified seed, agricultural inputs and technical advice, and manages the National Rice Fund (FNA) whose main mission is to conduct research and the transfer of technology.

Supported by an interdisciplinary group of professionals specialized in different areas such as water and soil management, physiology, plant pathology, entomology, meteorology and plant breeding, FEDEARROZ has been able to establish control and mitigation measures for a large part of the adverse factors that affect crop productivity.

In 22 years of research, 45 varieties of rice adapted to the different needs and rice-growing regions of the country have been registered, and we have managed to maintain stable and competitive production levels sufficient to supply the national demand for rice.

Additionally, since 2012 FEDEARROZ-FNA has been implementing the Mass Adoption Program or AMTEC. This program is set within the context of two major challenges facing the rice sector: climate change and free trade agreements. AMTEC is a technology transfer model that seeks the profitability and competitiveness of rice producers, through increasing yields and reducing production costs, and is based on environmental and social sustainability throughout the production chain.

Agronomical data acquisition by FEDEARROZ engineers in the field. (FEDEARROZ)


Why EcoProMIS?

Even when it seems that we know everything about rice, that is just not true. Challenges such as climate change and the need to produce more rice with fewer resources and lower environmental impact confront us with the need to form alliances.

With funds from the UK Space Agency and together with our partners Agricompas, Cenipalma, Solidaridad, Pixalytics, IWCO, and CIAT, the EcoProMIS project is one such alliance, through which we are developing tools such as remote sensing through images captured with drones and satellites.

The earth observation data complements the phenotypic information acquired in situ on the rice farms. Together, this information is establishing predictive models that facilitate monitoring and decision-making for the effective management of rice farms, and contribute to the objective of having a competitive and profitable rice sector.

What are we doing at EcoProMIS?

Among the departments with the largest area planted with rice in Colombia are Casanare and Tolima, with their two cultivation systems, rainfed and irrigation, respectively.

A field within a farm in each location was selected for EcoProMIS. At these fields the team of researchers from FEDEARROZ working on the project have established a platform for acquiring agronomic data in different stages of the crop, together with climatic information from meteorological stations, and GHG emissions with Eddy Covariance towers and static cameras.

At the same time, UAV images are being taken and analyzed to correlate parameters of rice development with variables such as yield. Additionally, we are working on establishing a robust and calibrated data model for rice cultivation, integrating all the information acquired.

It is expected that the EcoProMIS project will produce a platform for the use of our affiliated farmers, who from the beginning have also been part of the process, contributing their experience and needs for the creation of the platform. We want the pilots to be extended to more farmers, and will continue to work on it through workshops with growers.

We are committed to the Colombian rice sector, and we will continue to advance on that path in projects like this one, which have also allowed us to create a scientific network in which we hope to continue learning and innovating.

With EcoProMis we have a lot to contribute and also a lot to learn!



A strategic alliance with Colombian rice and oil palm farmers and their federations

A strategic alliance with Colombian rice and oil palm farmers and their federations

Libardo Ochoa García, Agricompas Colombia Project Officer

The Ecological Production Management Information System, EcoProMIS, is a project implemented in Colombia and co-financed by the United Kingdom Space Agency (UKSA).

The British company Agricompas has been developing the EcoProMIS idea over the last four years, with the support and collaboration of Colombian institutions Cenipalma, Fedearroz, CIAT and Solidaridad, and the companies IWCO and Pixalytics in the UK.

Collecting Farm Data
At the end of the EcoProMIS project, in 2022, a “platform” will be created that collects, with the active support of growers, agronomic field data and correlates it with meteorological and environmental data, as well as with satellite and drone earth observation data.

EcoProMIS processes this rice and oil palm production data in near real-time crop production knowledge with the help of crop models and algorithms (mathematical information processes).

Knowledge to Support Farmers
The above agronomic knowledge is combined with environmental, market and socio-economic knowledge, to generate practical information for decision-making in rice and oil palm crops.

Colombian rice and oil palm farmers will receive crop production knowledge to support their decision making at no cost, as long as they share and upload their crop data on the EcoProMIS platform. For each farmer and each plot, detailed supportive information will be generated.

A Strategic Alliance
The knowledge services that EcoProMIS will provide to growers are developed in close collaboration with our partners; the rice and oil palm growers and their federations. EcoProMIS activities include workshops in Casanare, Meta, Tolima and Magdalena wherein growers are interviewed and trained in data collection, concepts and ideas are shared, and partners participate in the development and testing of new knowledge services.

Knowledge Services
The EcoProMIS team are currently developing the first ‘knowledge services’ for rice and oil palm. These services predict yield and calculate water demand in both crops. Yield prediction is important for the grower to understand if the crop is performing well and if this is not the case to investigate limiting growth factors. Further it helps the farmer with planning the harvest and processing logistics. Regarding crop water requirement; the farmers will be able to establish in time how much additional water is required in irrigated and rainfed systems per crop cycle for rice and per year for oil palm. Water is fast becoming a scarce commodity.

Support with Drought
A practical example of applying EcoProMIS knowledge in daily life by Colombian farmers can be illustrated with recent events during the first half of 2020. Rainfall was scarce and the average annual rainfall is expected to be below the historical average. The questions arise, how will water shortage affect the rice and oil palm crops? And how much water is available for agriculture or industry?

With the EcoProMIS platform, farmers will have access to near real-time knowledge about crop water needs vs. the expected rainfall and thus be able to make better management decisions. This will help farmers to decide whether or not to invest in or use irrigation. In addition the grower could use the information of water shortage to justify a yield loss claim in case of insurance against drought.

A Joint Sustainable Future
After the project is finished by mid 2022 Agricompas will commercialise the platform as the new independent knowledge creator and broker in the crop value chain. EcoProMIS will provide “Knowledge for Free” to our grower and federation partners and “Decisions for a Fee” to major value chain players such as input and equipment providers, insurers and banks, and processors and traders. EcoProMIS’ ultimate goal is to empower and support growers and increase their productivity and profits while reducing the environmental impact and improve the socio-economic conditions of all stakeholders.