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Securing water for food and safety with the world's most advanced soil moisture information derived from satellites

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Using microwave sensors to see through the Earth’s cloud cover

To make Earth Observation more useful for agriculture, the EU-funded WATER4AGRI project is using microwave sensors and data to measure soil moisture and soil temperatures.

Climate Change and Environment
Food and Natural Resources

From longer droughts to increased flooding and more robust crop diseases, climate change is creating new challenges for the European agriculture sector. As Europe looks at ways to address these climate-related challenges, one technology showing promise is Earth Observation. However, as most Earth Observation is based on imagery, its usefulness is significantly limited due to an inability to ‘see’ through the Earth’s cloud cover. Dutch Earth Observation company VanderSat is taking a different approach. Through the support of the EU-funded WATER4AGRI project, the company uses microwave sensors and data, instead of imagery, to measure soil moisture and soil temperature. By using this microwave data, VanderSat has alleviated one of the main pain points associated with satellite-derived imagery data: cloud cover. “The advantage of going further down the electromagnetic spectrum towards microwave is that you get information about the Earth’s subsurface, which is not limited by cloud cover because it’s not in the visual range,” says Mr Richard de Jeu, founder and Chief Technology Officer at VanderSat. “Having this data provides us with insights on the physical status of a plant and has strong predictive value in respect of crop yield, flooding and droughts,” adds Mr Robbert Mica, co-founder and Chief Marketing Officer at VanderSat.

The science is key

By collecting data from a range of different satellites operated by organisations across the globe, VanderSat measures soil moisture and soil temperature on a daily basis, building up a database going back 40 years. But VanderSat is much more than a data company – it’s a science company. “We don’t just deliver the data, we also deliver the last mile by providing the science,” explains Mica. “For us, the science is key as it is what allows us to create useful tools for the agribusiness sector.” Take for example the company’s partnership with Swiss Re, a major global reinsurer. According to Mica, of the 7 billion hectares of arable land worldwide, only 1 billion are insured. To determine what kinds of conditions are abnormal and should be covered by insurance, insurers and reinsurers first need to know what is normal. “Long-term and consistent data is really important, and the dataset and capabilities developed during the WATER4AGRI project are capable of providing this information,” says Mica. The company is also collaborating with German chemical company BASF on a commercial product that provides farmers with individually tailored application maps and optimised timing for crop protection measures. “Knowing soil moisture levels is key to predicting yield risks and crop development more accurately,” says Mr Ole Peters, Head of Technology Digital Farming at BASF’s Agricultural Solutions division. “By integrating VanderSat’s data into our digital farming technology, farmers benefit from even more precise, field-zone-specific information and forecasts, which in turn ensures more efficient and sustainable use of water and crop inputs,” Peters adds.

A global leader

These are just two examples of how VanderSat is transforming science into practical, useful solutions for farmers. “The WATER4AGRI project was a kick-starter for our company, allowing us to quickly build a market-ready service,” adds de Jeu. “As a result, today we are one of the world’s leading players in Earth Observation for our field, delivering data and intelligence to farmers in Europe, the US, Brazil and beyond.”

Keywords

WATER4AGRI, Earth Observation, agriculture, microwave sensors, data, soil moisture, soil temperature, climate change, VanderSat, Swiss Re, BASF

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