ReachOut: Bringing the NDVI to Huskerland

ReachOut: Bringing the NDVI to Huskerland from United Farmers Cooperative on Vimeo.

Mike Zwingman

Mike Zwingman

Let me set the scene:  It’s a Tuesday afternoon in early July.  The sky is blue, the beans are shiny, and your crop scout, fresh from his weekly visit to your fields, gives you a smile and the all clear.  He’ll see you next Tuesday, same time, same place.

Fast forward just two days: It’s Thursday.  The sky is blue, the beans are shiny, and no one sees those few stealthy soybean aphids blow in on the breeze and land on one such shiny leaf somewhere in the northwest reaches of your fields.

At this point, you’ve got five days before your scout will be back out.  That’s five days of one pregnant aphid after another, establishing their colony on your turf.  I won’t say that five days makes for a soybean apocalypse, but I will say that whether or not even the best scout detects the nascent infestation on his first outing is uncertain, and I will say this: wouldn’t it just be really nice to know in real time when there’s crap affecting your fields?

Enter Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) technology.  You can think of it as Cold War era technology repurposed for agronomic use in the 21st century.  NDVI technology creates imagery of your fields, taken via satellite, airplane, or UAV, according to the ratio of near infared and visible light it detects.  Essentially, this imagery reflects total vegetation in your fields.  Taken over time, NDVI images measure changes in your fields and indicate a multitude of things, including yield, water status, plant stress, and anything else that affects chlorophyll levels.

Now, you might be thinking Satellite?  Airplane?  UAV?  Well, yes, my friends.  Getting the complete view of your fields takes some altitude.  And you might be thinking Taken over time?  And the answer is yes again: the complete view of your fields takes not just altitude, but time as well, so that our understanding of what is happening out there is dynamic rather than just the static image of one day.

So you’re thinking that this sounds expensive, right?  It is.  We’re talking about equipment that you just don’t build in your garage and we’re talking about algorithms.  We’re inching closer to NASA here than your shed.  Typically, when growers do utilize NDVI technology, they do so three times over the course of a season, timing one pass for July, when the imagery is closely correlated to yield.

But recently, UFC was granted access to an NDVI pilot program that tasks a satellite with imagery commands not three times per season but daily.  And we’re looking for a few good growers to sign up.

Header1Daily is the key word here.  By generating imagery every 24 hours, this program allows you to “scout” your fields more efficiently and effectively, to get daily recon on your fields, and to provide you a daily report card on your crops.  When a problem does pop up, it won’t be two weeks before we know about it, it won’t be five days—it will be nearly in real time, allowing you to address the issue quickly and effectively.  When the boots hit your field, they will be necessary and they will know exactly where to head.  Daily images allow you to respond to problems in a predictive rather than reactive fashion, which means that no soybean aphid will have a five day head start on you ever again.