REMEMBER WHEN Google Earth rocked the consumer world by providing satellite images of any place in the world from a laptop computer? Users can glide over and zoom in on any locale to get driving directions, find nearby restaurants, measure distance and go on virtual vacations.

Now Agri ImaGIS Technologies has brought similar capabilities to the agricultural market in an online system called SatShot 3D. It provides farmers with a 3-D look at their crops along with a software platform of mapping tools and crop information to apply seed, fertilizer and other crop inputs at variable rates.

Agri ImaGIS has been providing imagery to the agricultural market since 1994. The company claims to have one of the largest databases of crop imagery in the world with more than 60 billion acres worth of imagery from the past 10 years. Its software platform, now offered online, integrates imagery information with other online databases, including soil profiles, topography silhouettes and user-derived yield maps.

Recently the company formed an agreement with Farm Market iD, a database provider, that gives them access to the actual name, location and address associated with each field in the U.S. For a dollar an acre, farmers can access their information in seconds by going to www.satshot.com and entering a name and password.

Like Google Earth, the images have a 3-D globe effect as well as easy pan, zoom and search tools. Users can fly their fields and zoom in to view the status of their crops along with the geographical coordinates. Most new images are taken every 16 days, but other satellite and aerial images can be taken on specific dates. Next year a new satellite out of the UK will allow a new shot to be taken every week that spans 400 miles in one shot.

Tailored applications

Underneath the 3-D view is a vegetation map that users can click on to view the thickness of crop vegetation. Knowing the varying levels of vegetation lets a grower identify and define management zones from which to tailor input applications. “Variable-rate application of fertilizer, seed, chemicals and other inputs has been shown to increase yields and decrease input costs anywhere from 10 to 40%,” says Agri ImaGIS President Lanny Faleide.

The vegetative maps can be correlated with other layers of information such as soil maps, yield maps, soil conductivity maps and topography maps. With that information, farmers can determine quantities of inputs to apply to each area and make prescription maps (using software available online) that relay the information to controllers on farm equipment.

Later this year a new cell phone application will allow users to analyze the imagery on their cell phones for the purposes of crop scouting.

View from 400 miles

Faleide, a former pilot, has been a proponent of satellite imagery since the early '80s, when he learned he could view the status of his crop just by flying overhead in a plane. He found out that the government collected satellite imagery for the purposes of crop forecasts and that vegetative biomass maps were available for use. It was then he decided to make a business of providing imagery to the agricultural market, serving as the middleman between satellite companies and the agricultural sector.

Faleide says the technology behind satellite imagery has not changed much. Government and privately owned satellites stationed 400 miles above the Earth take snapshots of the ground and log the geographical coordinates as they orbit every day. But what has changed, he says, is the viability of the technology. Business for him has doubled in the last two years as farmers look to new ways to control rising input costs.

“When fertilizer prices reached record highs last year, a lot of farmers went looking for something other than grid or composite-based soil sampling to tailor their input applications,” Faleide says. “Satellite imagery provided them with a solution with zone sampling. We can shoot multimillions of acres in seconds. And delivery is instant because our image base is online.

“New tractors are now factory-equipped with a GPS receiver,” Faleide continues. “All that's needed to do variable-rate application is a controller that tells the implement the amount of inputs to apply at the geographic coordinates.”

Wade Barnes, president of Farmers' Edge, a crop consulting company out of Canada, uses the imaging services of Agri ImaGIS to identify management zones of more than 750,000 acres belonging to his company's clients. He says some of his clients have saved as much as $25 to $30/acre in increased yields and lower input costs as a result of his prescription maps.

Prices start at $1/acre/year. The price includes the data and all online tools required. Contact Agri ImaGIS Technologies, Dept. FIN, Suite C, 1120 28th Ave. N., Fargo, ND 58102, 701/235-5767, visit www.satshot.com or www.freeproduct info.net/fin, or circle 101.