ClearSky, a new system by Agrii, is said to be the UK’s first truly cloud-free imagery service, enabling users to benefit from a new level of accuracy in field scouting, variable rate applications and other precision farming activities.
Exclusively available to Agrii and RHIZA customers through the Contour platform, removes the reliance on regular Sentinel 2 satellite images – which, until now have been relied upon by all farmers in the UK.
The ClearSky product is the result of a collaborative project between RHIZA, Origin Digital and a leading technology partner and produces full-spectrum optical and infrared imagery, including NDVI and GCVI from synthetic-aperture radar (SAR) data. It removes the previous reliance on optical images needing a clear line of sight.
This reportedly means that farmers using the system are guaranteed to receive an image showing them how their crop is developing every six days, whatever the weather. This is in contrast to traditional, weather-dependent imagery which can often have gaps of several weeks between cloud-free views.
“As SAR data passes through clouds, this means that for the first time, we will be able to guarantee our customers a regular, reliable image every six days, all-year-round,” said David Langton, head of R&D at Origin Digital.
“Unlike other ‘cloud-free’ derivatives, ClearSky does not rely on intermittent clear optical imagery to calibrate predicted changes. This enables a greater degree of confidence in the data we are supplying to customers.”
Service evaluation involved Agrii agronomists, Origin R&D and RHIZA account managers, helping to develop the final product. Over 6,000 images were assessed in the process and the correlation with Sentinel optical imagery has been found to be excellent and proven that ClearSky can be used for field scouting and variable rate planning.
Sam Fordham, head of technical at RHIZA said: “ClearSky will enable our growers to scout and plan their fertiliser applications more effectively, efficiently and sustainably than has been possible before.”
“Given how quickly crops develop during the peak of spring, one of the cloudiest seasons of the year, being reliant on regular Sentinel 2 images meant there was a high risk that fertiliser applications would be less than optimal. ClearSky greatly reduces that risk meaning users can target nitrogen applications to when they will be most economically worthwhile.”
Analysis by Agrii reveals that the Sentinel 2 system produced, on average, roughly 13.3 clear images per farm in 2021. Using the ClearSky platform increased this to 60.8. This is improved further if the cloud-free images captured by Sentinel 2 are included.
“The UK is predominantly a cloudy country. During March 2021, 68% of the farms serviced by RHIZA hadn’t received a clear image for more than 10 days. This serves to hinder the development of precision farming tools. ClearSky removes that barrier and will enable the advancement of a raft of new services,” explained Jon Greenman, commercial manager at RHIZA.
“This is a hugely exciting development because it provides dependable images on a regular basis, two attributes missing from other imagery services. This will enable UK farmers to further optimise the application of fertiliser and other inputs to improve yields endorse their sustainability credentials.”
ClearSky will be available to all Agrii customers on the Contour platform from the end of March.