High hopes for remote sensing of pasture conditions

Federal funding assists pasture project

The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association says it hopes a research project on remote sensing of pasture conditions will be the foundation for a new national pasture insurance program.

“The project’s findings may allow for more precision in the development of insurance programs for pasture production, on a farm level, rather than by geographic regions or limited weather station data,” the association said in its e-newsletter.

The project received $839,000 in federal funding earlier this month, with Alberta Beef Producers receiving another $901,000 for developing satellite data to help improve forage insurance.

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The remote sensing project actually started in 2015 and is slated to be completed in March.

“The primary focus of this research project is to define an ‘X to Y’ relationship between satellite-based remotely sensed data and actual pasture production (by weight) with sufficient robustness and accuracy to form the basis for a pasture insurance program that is identical in concept to that available for annual crops,” said the CCA’s Action News.

Researchers are compiling 10 years of satellite data to create a baseline that will be compared to current production. If they can prove that spectrometer readings from satellites can be used to accurately measure pounds of forage per acre, then insurance coverage could be offered on an individual farm basis — rather than using averages and estimates for the district.

Satellite readings would also help ranchers track the amount of forage on their operations when pastures are hit by drought or other production problems.

“Pasture is a crucial feed source for the beef cattle industry and when threatened, rapid response and alternatives for feeding the cow herd must be timely,” the CCA said. “Using satellite measurements on a very localized scale, predictions of pasture productivity field by field, week by week, will be a significant tool for producers’ risk management.”

The federal government announced a total of $4.4 million for beef projects earlier this month, including $255,000 to help the Canadian Angus Association develop tools to improve cattle breeding and $205,500 for the National Cattle Feeders Association for a national feedlot animal care assessment program. Another $2.2 million will go to projects that will help market development, emergency planning, competitive pricing, animal care assessments, and farm software development.

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