FertiSat - Satellite-based Service for Variable Rate Nitrogen Application in Cereal Production

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FertiSat project and the resulting service responds to a growing demand of cereals producers who seek an effective and affordable tool for precise and optimal fertilization of crops.

The agricultural sector has embraced efficiency-based competition and the way to improve its profitability is to ensure the effective use of inputs, of which the nitrogen fertiliser is the key one. Nitrogen fertilisation is the component of agrotechnical practices that is the most expensive and that determines cereals’ yield to a great extent.

FertiSat service offers application maps for nitrogen fertilization of cereal crops i.e. wheat, barley, rye, triticale and oats by Variable Rate Application (VRA) spreaders and sprayers. Since each crop type has a different phenology and thus a different time and rate of optimal nitrogen application, focusing on individual species of cereals enables creation of the service adapted to specific requirements of farmers. Absorption of nitrogen by plants is influenced by moisture and weather conditions, hence these elements are also taken into account when determining precise doses of the fertilizer.

The final product is generated automatically by developed algorithms supplied with data provided mainly by satellite optical imagery and numerical weather forecasting model.

Users and their needs

There are three main groups of customers:

  • Medium- and large-scale farms focused on cereals production;
  • Agricultural cooperatives associating farmers who share agricultural machinery such as tractors, fertilizer spreaders and sprayers;
  • Agricultural advisers and farm agronomists. 

Several farms located in different regions of Poland participate in the project as test users and provide feedback on the service performance.

Fig. 1. A wheat field in early March before the first application of N fertiliser.

The important needs reported by farmers:

  • to increase efficiency of nitrogen fertilisation treatments and thus to reduce cost of inputs and to increase farm profitability;
  • to adjust the solution to individual species of cereals;
  • to differentiate fertilisation recommendations depending on phenological phase of crops;
  • to take into account influence of water accessibility as well as current and forecasted weather conditions on assimilation of nitrogen by plants. 

One of key operational challenges in the project is to integrate data on moisture conditions and weather forecast with information on spatial distribution of nitrogen requirements in order to provide users with precise and effective nitrogen application maps.

The solution is dedicated for Polish farmers, however it can be also applied in other regions with similar climate and soil conditions.

Service/ system concept

FertiSat service, accessible through an annual subscription, provides complex data on conditions prevailing on a farm and their spatial distribution within individual fields. Among others: crop condition and leaf chlorophyll content, plants’ reaction to moisture stress, actual and past weather conditions. The main products are nitrogen fertilisation maps in file formats adapted for implementation in the popular agricultural VRA machinery. 

The proposed service is based on Earth Observation optical imagery, numerical weather prediction model and satellite positioning/navigation enabling users a practical implementation of the service.

Algorithms developed during the project are implemented in Data Processing Centre where other important operations take place: data acquisition, storage, integration, processing and provision of users with the final product. The customers use Internet platform and web-based protocols to acquire the developed maps of nitrogen fertilisation recommendations.

Space Added Value

Space assets essential for the project implementation are multispectral EO as well as GNSS technology. The service is based on free satellite imagery (Sentinel-2, Landsat-8) and, at the special request of a customer, the VHR commercial satellite imagery as an input to the system. EO provides data necessary for calculation of nitrogen deficiency in plants and their response to weather and moisture conditions. 

The application of GNSS is used to navigate tractors within the field and to control fertiliser spreading treatment adjusted to spatial variability of crops’ needs. 

FertiSat service should not be considered as a competition to manufacturers and distributors of agricultural equipment. Although some of the products, such as crop monitoring sensors, which examine the condition of vegetation, can be replaced by the EO-based solution, the crop sensors are frequently beyond the financial capacity of farmers, hence the attractiveness of the FertiSat service. In addition, tractor-mounted solutions require a lengthy training period for their correct application. Thus, high costs and complexity of using the sensors are inhibitory factors limiting their use. From the beginning the FertiSat service is being developed as a low-cost and user friendly solution.

Current Status

The two year project was launched in December 2016. In 2017 the in-situ data collection and analysis took place, e.g. soil and plant samples, soil moisture measurements with different methods during the growing season.

Fig. 2. Measurement of plant samples collected in late spring 

Algorithms for nitrogen variable rate applications were developed in order to combine information on vegetation condition and water accessibility for crops. The service architecture was designed and development and deployment of the service in cloud infrastructure has started.

Project Managers

Contractor Project Manager

Bartosz Buszke
Wasat Sp. z o.o, ul. Trzy Lipy 3
80-172 Gdańsk
Poland
+48 600 253 700

ESA Project Manager

Beatrice Barresi
ESA ECSAT, Harwell Campus. Fermi Avenue.
Didcot
OX11 0FD
United Kingdom

Status Date

Updated: 11 December 2017 - Created: 11 December 2017