Driving farming entrepreneurialism through satellites

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By Vladimir Stoiljkovi, Head of Agri-Tech Programme, Satellite Applications Catapult

This week’s publication of ‘Entrepreneurship: A kiss of life for the UK farming sector’ by the Oxford Farming Conference, highlights the significant opportunities available to farmers who are prepared to push the traditional farming boundaries and venture into the realms of entrepreneurialism. In this article, Vladimir Stoiljkovi considers how satellite technology can help achieve this vision.

Identified by the UK Government as one of the ‘eight great technologies’ to drive growth in the UK’s future economy, agri-tech has also been identified by the Catapult as a sector that could greatly benefit from the opportunities offered by satellite applications.

To date, the farming sector’s use of satellite technology and data has been relatively low. However, given agri-tech’s important societal role, we see it as an area in which there is a great opportunity for satellite applications to play a major role in a variety of ways.

This is broadly alluded to in the Oxford Farming Conference report, which says: “There is a difference between (farm) business management and entrepreneurship. Farm business management is about better planning, implementation, control and managing risk. Entrepreneurship is about looking forward – identifying opportunities, creating a vision of how the business will grow, innovating and making a difference. Entrepreneurial farmers look at their farms and see ways to make them more profitable, develop ideas and then translate them into action.”

With this in mind, the Catapult is working with stakeholders from across the agricultural industry to maximise the potential growth for satellite applications. This includes agri service providers monitoring vegetation phenology through the exploitation of data provided by Copernicus’s Sentinel 1 C-band instrument.

Furthermore, we’re working on seamless telecommunications connectivity solutions to address an existing well-known challenge experienced by end-users on the farms. This involves us collaborating with telematics solution providers, machinery manufacturers, and application/service providers to develop a robust and agile solution that provides internet access through a mix of cellular and satellite connectivity. This would be a major step forward from the existing product options which rely mostly on mobile (cellular) networks alone, and be a key enabler to the seamless transfer of data that can be integrated into a farm management system.

Satellite technologies and in-situ sensors are already playing an increasingly important role in modern day agriculture, where they have the capacity to improve the provision of information at key points in the crop production supply chain. Geospatial data describing the development of a crop canopy, in-situ crop data collection, and real-time weather information are all vital for the provision of intelligence to stakeholders that require a macroscopic assessment of crop status. The availability of this data is a prerequisite to understanding where and why there is variation (within and between fields), enabling increased productivity (yield) over the growing season.

Looking to the future, we’ve considered the likely impacts of satellite data and technology across many areas of our day-to-day lives, from security and travel to weather forecasting and maritime conservation.

The farming community is also likely to see far-reaching benefits of satellites, with downstream applications continuing to help farmers farm more efficiently and effectively. With a greater entrepreneurial spirit throughout the UK farming sector, perhaps we may even see individual farmers owning their own smallsat?