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Observing plant growth can be laborious—nature documentaries, for instance, generally use time-lapse photography. At the same time, for farmers, their harvest is their livelihood. It is therefore vital to monitor crops carefully, not only with the naked eye but also with satellites. Fraunhofer IGD helps farmers process and understand the corresponding data.  

Satellite images are no longer simply a useful extra in agriculture; in light of the enormous size of many fields, they have become essential. Combined with data from sensors down on Earth, they deliver vital insights into the state and development of crops—at least in theory. In practice, however, the volume of data generated is so immense as to overwhelm the user, making systematic analysis in a reasonable timeframe virtually impossible. This is where Fraunhofer IGD comes in, along with a number of partners within the European Union’s DataBio project. The goal is to establish an effective infrastructure that enables access to huge amounts of data, and supports subsequent processing and visualization.

Fraunhofer IGD’s Spatial Information Management Competence Center specializes in the interactive and seamless usability of big data with georeferencing. Precision farming, as it is known, is a recently developed method for high-resolution soil mapping and for maximizing yield. In addition to the ongoing collection of real-time data, it is important to consider historical data when attempting to forecast the probable success of planting seed. The information gathered by means of satellite and ground sensors is passed on to Fraunhofer IGD. Our technologies enable highly efficient data storage and management, paired with innovative methods for analysis and research. This offers a major advantage over conventional image visualization, familiar from static maps: the data remain interactive in nature. Analysis results can be newly aggregated, filtered and visualized in line with the user’s evolving needs—to quickly evaluate and find answers to a specific question or problem.

One relevant use case based on the new technology comprises the identification of undesirable plants in monocultures. Agricultural crops have very specific needs in terms of soil and light. Other species are therefore extremely unwelcome. Satellites can be employed to produce infrared images; plants reflect this light in diverse ways, enabling weeds to be rapidly pinpointed. The interactive element is not limited to individual fields but can be applied to broad areas featuring differing types of terrain. One pilot project has already succeeded in creating an interactive analysis of vegetation across large parts of Greece.

Large sets of heterogeneous data do not just represent a challenge and opportunity for agriculture. Government agencies and insurance companies can also make use of these technologies—for instance, following a natural disaster, to identify affected areas and to make a direct comparison to the situation beforehand to assess damage.