There is international consensus that timely and transparent information on crop conditions and production prospects is more critical than ever. Such information has a key role to play in ensuring market transparency and stability, providing early warning of food shortages to guide humanitarian responses, and informing national agricultural policies as well as field scale decisions, to name a few.
Where in the past remote-sensing (RS) based information provided crude crop condition and production indicators at best, current satellite data and information technologies are increasingly offering cost-effective and timely information on crop type and health, growth stage, and productivity from the field to global scales. Today, we are in a new era of satellite data availability with major advances in capability with respect to just three years ago, and it’s revolutionizing both the RS field and the ability of the agricultural monitoring community to provide accurate, timely information across cropping systems at scale.
In this context, satellite technologies are playing an increasingly central role across the agricultural sector, from informing government policies and humanitarian aid, to supporting precision agriculture and insurance decisions, and to monitoring progress towards agricultural intensification for more sustainable global food supplies. However, with the broad promises that are being made for the use of remote sensing data, it is critical to understand the current capabilities and the limitations of these technologies.
Crop conditions in AMIS countries (as of 28 October): Crop condition map synthesizing information for all four AMIS crops as of 28 October. Crop conditions over the main growing areas for wheat, maize, rice, and soybean are based on a combination of national and regional crop analyst inputs along with earth observation data. Only crops that are in other-than-favourable conditions are displayed on the map with their crop symbol.
A main challenge is the development of better and more robust methods for production forecasting applicable at the field to the global scales and across diverse cropping systems. Major advances have been made in this domain, particularly for monitoring large scale agriculture. However, current capabilities for effective monitoring of smallholder systems, which characterize much of the world’s most vulnerable countries to food insecurity, are insufficient and need to be urgently strengthened. On the data side, one of the main impediments for improving RS based models is access to reliable, representative ground data. Amending this data deficiency is a priority, for example through innovative public-private partnerships that can enable access to and collection of field data and taking full advantage of the advances in artificial intelligence methods.
Technology transfer and effective communication is another critical piece moving forward. The RS community has largely worked in isolation, so those who could benefit from RS-based information are often unaware of what is available or possible. Strengthening partnerships would help to ensure that RS products and applications are stakeholder driven, and that viable methods are transitioned into operations in a sustainable manner and appropriately integrated into existing monitoring frameworks. In this regard, the AMIS-GEOGLAM partnership has made significant progress towards bridging the gap and building trust between disparate communities.
It is an exciting time for agricultural remote sensing with tangible prospects within reach. The revolution in cost and availability of satellite data, combined with the commitment from space agencies for coordination and long term observations, and the advances in big data analytics are a game-changer for agricultural monitoring capabilities. Effective monitoring of agricultural lands is a key component in the fight for global food security and a shared global challenge that can only be addressed through international collaboration across countries, organizations and sectors, and through innovation in science, technology and more open sharing of data, methods and expertise.
Original article by Crop Monitor Coordination Team of the GEOGLAM Secretariat for the November 2018 edition of the AMIS Market Monitor. The team is led by Inbal Becker-Reshef, Harvest Program Director.