Could satellites change systems for aquaculture?
Developments in satellite, space and tracking technology are starting to have repercussions far beyond field mapping for crops and GPS guidance systems for farm machinery.
This technology is now touching all aspects of food production from livestock and arable farming to aquaculture and along the food production chain through the processor to the consumer.
According to Dave Ross, senior researcher at the Scottish Rural College, SRUC, speaking at the Satellites for Agri-Food Consortia Building Workshop in London, satellite technology could play an important role in meeting “the perennial food problem of the increasing population”.
“One of the solutions to this is looking at technology that looks at sustainable crop, food and livestock production – sensing systems to accurately monitor all aspects of the food chain,” he said.
He added that satellite technology can help in improvements in the yield and sustainability of crop and livestock food products by producing data on the variation in production with sensing systems to accurately monitor aspects of the production system, the acquisition of data and the conversion of this data into information.
This will produce effective crop and livestock production management with production efficiency, better livestock health, sustainability and supply chain compliance, traceability and provenance.
While satellite technology has been an integral part of the cereal and crop sector for some time with precision farming a major element in the concept, other sectors of the food, farming and aquaculture sectors are now looking at the potential the technology offers.
In the cereal and crop sectors, satellites have been used to map fields, monitor and measure soils, help increase yields and cropping densities, understand nutrient imbalances and deficiencies, monitor suboptimal plants and understand and trace irrigation needs and flood risks. The technology has also been used to monitor weeds and pest movements and crop losses.
Much of this information and these measurements have been gleaned using the European Space Agency’s Sentinel series of satellites orbiting the earth. However, according to Ross, the capabilities of this satellite system can also help in livestock farming.
The information from the satellites can be used in field monitoring of herd behaviour and livestock tracking and tracing. It can become an essential part of traceability in the supply chain with both complete herd and flock monitoring and tracking of individual animals.
Through checking livestock movements, it can help in assessing herd health, numbers and feeding habits. It can help in checking isolation behaviour and identify parturition. The information received can also identify sub-herd activity and social hierarchies as well as pasture use.
The data received from the satellites can also help monitor grazed area biomass and indicate feed habits and pasture quality.
A study on severe lamb losses, “black loss”, in parts of Scotland conducted by the Highlands and Islands Sheep Health Association had found that up to 18.5 per cent of the lambs had disappeared through predators and illness and remote monitoring could help to reduce these losses and the financial loss that accompanies them.
Ross added that the technology is now being used in Kenya to assist in insurance claims for livestock losses caused through drought.