Ukrainian farmers are using satellites to optimize resources

Due to the war, Ukrainian farmers have experienced a shortage of fertilizers, seeds, and other necessary supplies. Here's how precision agriculture is helping.
Written by Greg Nichols, Contributing Writer

Ravaged by war, farmers in Ukraine are turning to satellites. Similar data collection technologies used by governments to gain a strategic edge on the battlefield have been helping farmers maximize yields while they contend with massive shortfalls of everything from fertilizer to seed. It's a compelling test case for an era of climate uncertainty, growing populations, and increasing disruptions.

OneSoil Map, one of the technologies being used, is a data visualization and mapping solution that enables agricultural businesses, researchers and governments to visualize massive worldwide datasets and observe trends in crop production all over the world. It's been heartily adopted by Ukrainian farmers hoping to avert disaster. The technology enables farmers to remotely monitor the state of crops, quickly detect field issues, work with productivity zones, and apply variable-rate fertilizers and seeds, thus increasing yields and boosting sustainable farming practices. 

Ukraine has been a particular area of focus for OneSoil, as well as an important test case for the technology's power to help in truly dire circumstances.

"OneSoil is strongly connected to Ukraine," OneSoil CEO Morten Schmidt tells me. "We created and validated our technologies in cooperation with Ukrainian partners. The ground truth data used to train our models was initially sourced from agricultural partners such as IMC, one of the top 10 largest Ukrainian holdings. OneSoil app is used by more than 50K users in Ukraine, we continue to closely monitor the situation."

During the war time, farmers have experienced a shortage of all needed inputs, including fertilizers, seeds, and chemicals. So-called variable-rate technology, which uses data from satellites and other inputs to interpret how and when crops are likely to thrive, allows for redistributing those scarce resources more efficiently across fields.

As Oleksii Misyura, head of R&D in IMC, says: "We didn't sow many fields this year due to the war. There are tanks and empty shells lying around; some fields are mined. In such conditions, precision farming helps to optimize resources."

IMC used the satellite data to calculate how much it could save by redistributing fertilizers between different productivity zones, reducing the rate in some field areas and increasing it in others, thus lowering input consumption and increasing profits. Last year, the approach improved the average profit per hectare by $32.

OneSoil has found itself in an interesting reporting role, as well, uniquely positioned to use its satellite data and machine learning to evaluate the impact of the crisis by comparing the size of areas under crops to last year's season. 

"To do this, we ran our ML models allowing for creation of in-season predictions," says Schmidt. "We determined that the area under main spring crops, corn and sunflower, have decreased by 40% on average in the war zone."

Affordable precision farming is a newcomer to an age old sector. One big benefit, beyond the horrors of managing production during wartime, may be a gentler impact on the land and environment. Agriculture generates about 24% of all greenhouse gas emissions. That's more than all airplanes, cars, ships, and other vehicles combined. Yet, at the same time, farmers are among those most at risk from the impacts of climate change. 

"Precision agriculture offers a way to address this challenge," Schmidt says.

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