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Using Remote Sensing Technology to Manage Through COVID-19


The agriculture industry is well versed in managing volatility – it functions at the mercy of Mother Nature. While the impacts of climate change have created more extreme weather events, 2020 has introduced a completely new X-factor: COVID-19.

A recent study of US Farmers published by Progressive Farmer aimed to understand the level of concern surrounding the coronavirus pandemic. Of the respondents, 84% had some level of concern that the virus would affect the health of their family – however 69% of respondents indicated that they have no backup plan for their operation should they themselves become sick with COVID-19. The study did indicate that farmers are starting to change their behaviors with 85% practicing social distancing and 50% indicating that they were having less meetings.

What does that mean for business professionals who support farmers – who often make on-farm visits? And how can the agribusiness industry help manage risk across the industry to ensure a safe, ample food supply and financial security for farmers?

It’s going to require some new ways of working and flexibility to accommodate to changing circumstances with COVID-19. Solid communication is going to be a key factor for everyone, and we should default to over communicating. There is enough uncertainty, so anything you can do to provide clarity on how your business is operating will help.

Today’s technology can help manage various needs even when we can’t physically be on-farm. Satellite remote sensing has proven to be a valuable tool for agriculture. We can go from field level details needed to provide recommendations for fertilization or crop protection, to regional or even country level data to help us understand production levels. A lot can be accomplished even when we are limited in where we can go.

When we think about the agronomist network with coops, retailers and other associations, they need to be able to provide farmers with the same level of service even when they can’t be next to them in the field. Thankfully, most of today’s agronomists are utilizing remote sensing tools. Depending on the tool, this can provide a detailed view of the farmers’ fields to help guide a discussion or provide insights into what actions need to be taken in the field. Tools such as our Croptical farm monitoring tool include historical data so you can quickly reference the past years crops performance, such as yield trend or variability, of that field while monitoring current condition through benchmarking and change detection. And platforms such as Farm Dog provide free basic access for scouting fields so you can easily create a digital record of your work to share with others when you’re on your own in a field.

Traders and logistic managers are going to need to keep a close eye on production trends and quality indicators. There are several scenarios that could play out well beyond any weather curve balls. If rural communities are heavily impacted by COVID-19, we could see planted acres drop when farmers’ health keeps them from managing their fields. Even if physical health doesn’t become an issue, there are already several concerns about labor shortages and other considerations impacting 2020 planting decisions. And all of this on top of an already economically strained industry. Farmers might not have the financial means to manage their acres as they have in the past. Each week, our team of crop analysts host a webinar to review global crop monitoring data to provide key insights into production trends – making the data easily available for any size of operation.

We’re also starting to see impacts to the insurance and banking industry. While index-based insurance platforms, such as the platform we offer with Skyline Partners, run on data analytics and don’t require on-farm visits, managing claims adjustments for peril based insurance programs could get more complicated. Lenders might also need to consider alternative methods for collecting data on crop land. Platforms like Agriquest allow insurance and banks to assess historical crops performance data and monitor current situation to allow for remote management of assets regardless of location.

Now more than ever, remote sensing tools are going to be essential to the agriculture industry as we manage through the COVID-19 crisis. Using high-quality data, we can continue to provide our farmers with the support and services they need to manage through the 2020 growing season and beyond.

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