In the context of NASA Harvest’s Rapid Action for Agriculture Policy Support (RAAPS) Initiative, the consortium recently hosted a delegation of Ukrainian ministers, agricultural economists, and food security experts for an agricultural monitoring workshop at the University of Strasbourg’s iCube Lab.
NASA Harvest has been working with the Ukrainian government since February 2022 to help map cropland within the country, monitor the planting and harvesting of winter and spring crops, and analyze production and damage in war stricken farmlands. With Ukraine being a major agricultural exporter of wheat and sunflower oils, these types of satellite-based analyses have helped provide transparency on production, reduce market volatility, and enable informed decision making.
Agricultural Monitoring Workshop
The workshop provided an opportunity for Harvest RAAPS team researchers to meet face to face with members of the Ministry of Agrarian Policy and Food of Ukraine to discuss the priorities and needs of the latter, given that NASA Harvest activities are driven by user needs and filling information gaps.
The RAAPS team summarized previous satellite-based agricultural analyses, and presented on the capabilities of the team to explore additional avenues of question and concern. Presentations covered the process of field boundary delineation and crop type mapping, as well as: planting and harvesting detection; identifying artillery damage; measuring nitrogen uptake; and crop yield estimation.
The Ukrainian First Deputy Minister of Agrarian Policy and Food, Taras Vysotskyi, said of NASA Harvest’s work, that “the cooperation of the Ukrainian Ministry with NASA Harvest improves the ability to estimate Ukraine's agricultural production in time of war and, in particular, to assess the territories temporarily occupied and already unoccupied.”
In addition to monitoring production, Vysotskyi also spoke to how the RAAPS team’s work is helping to evaluate the condition of the land itself, adding that Harvest’s analyses allows the government to “better assess the risks associated with damage to fields from artillery fire along the demarcation line.”
NASA Harvest Observes Ukrainian Cropland
Rapidly providing agricultural information has been a long-identified need within the agricultural community – especially in light of notable increases in severe weather events (i.e. drought, derechos, flooding), persistence of regional conflicts, and global supply chain disruptions. Given its status as a major commodity crop exporter upon which many food-insecure importers rely, NASA Harvest researchers have been monitoring Ukrainian agriculture even prior to the consortium’s founding in 2017. But it is through Harvest’s Rapid Action for Agricultural Policy Support Initiative that the team has begun increasing its need-based expeditious monitoring efforts, triggered by the Russian invasion of the country in February 2022.
Partnering with high resolution satellite data provider Planet, NASA Harvest began by mapping cropland within Ukraine at a 3 meter resolution, classifying land as either currently planted winter crops (crops planted in the late fall to be harvested in spring) and potential spring crops (crops planted in the spring for harvest in the fall).
Examining Ukrainian cropland in the proximity of the front line with data from Institute for the Study of War and the American Enterprise Institute’s Critical Threats Project, NASA Harvest was able to determine the percentage of cropland under Russian occupation. This allowed the team to see how much winter wheat could be harvested and how many spring crops might be able to be planted. This analysis showed that further away from the frontline, much of the cropland (88%) could be planted.
As the conflict continued and the battlelines changed, our continued monitoring found that 21% of Ukrainian crops were on occupied land by summer 2022.
As fall came and the spring wheat harvest neared, the NASA Harvest RAAPS team, in an effort to reduce global commodity market volatility, turned its attention to estimating total harvest within Ukraine.
Our analysis found that the 2022 Ukrainian spring wheat harvests were much higher than what prior estimates from earlier in the year had predicted. While lower than the record crop yield in the previous year, the 2022 harvested yield was in line with the five-year average yield – providing a much needed science-based and market-calming evaluation. However, the RAAPS team also found that more than a ⅕ of the harvested wheat (22%) was inside Russian-occupied land. One limitation of satellite data is that while it can provide information on where and how much was harvested, it cannot reveal what happens after the crop leaves the ground.
As the war continues, many questions remain around how future planting and harvesting within the country will develop. NASA Harvest will continue to work with consortium partners and the Ukrainian agricultural ministry to monitor agriculture in Europe’s breadbasket, providing satellite-based information to help inform food security decisions.