Canadian agriculture leads world in satellite mapping

When it comes to mapping the agricultural landscape using satellites, Canada is a world leader in the field.

“There’s absolutely no question” about Canada’s leadership role in using satellites to generate data, says Andrew Davidson, Earth observation operations manager for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

“We collect imagery over Canada’s agricultural base and we use that to do various things,” Davidson says, like annual AAFC mapping of crop type and weekly monitoring of crop conditions, surface soil moisture and more.

Uses for satellite mapping

The satellite mapping is integrated with other pieces of information to “generate data and information products, which are value added pieces of information" for the use of various government departments or by industry stakeholders to help them make better decisions.

Davidson says the first step in satellite management process is taking an inventory of the agricultural base, determining the amount and current conditions.

AAFC relies on two types of satellites. One type is an optical sensor satellite, which is similar to a digital camera, he notes.

The satellites’ infrared wavelengths interact well with vegetation and can give a great indication of the type and health of crops, Davidson explains.

Another type is a radar satellite, which operate in the microwave region of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Information integrated

AAFC integrates the information from the two types of satellites to say “what is on the surface of the Earth and how it’s doing,” Davidson says, adding, “all these data streams integrated together give us a really good picture.”

In addition to Canadian satellites, AAFC uses satellites operated by other governments, such as Japan and China, and ones operated by other governments’ departments, such as NASA and the United States Geological Survey. 

New satellites being launched

Canada’s Radarsat-2 satellite has been active since the mid-2000s and collects information using radar microwave wavelengths. A series of three new Canadian radar satellites will be launched in the summer or early fall.

With the number of satellites orbiting the Earth now, Davidson says there is ample data being generated - a different story from 20 or even 10 years ago. The more data, the better, he says.

“I’d never say we have too much data," Davidson says. 

Bottom line

Data generated by satellites orbiting the Earth deliver a good picture of Canada's agriculture, providing more data for better analysis.

Article by: Susan Mann