Using satellite imagery to reduce water use and improve crop performance in drought-stricken Arizona

Using satellite imagery to reduce water use and improve crop performance in drought-stricken Arizona

Jaco Theron is a farm manager in Arizona, his main product is alfalfa. In Arizona, they have a lot of sunshine but water is scarce. As a result optimising irrigation management is very important for the success of his crops. If irrigation is too low growth is limited but if irrigation is too high the plants die as they do not get enough oxygen at the root level and effectively drown. Precise management of irrigation saves water, reduces costs and increases yields.

Jaco has found that satellite imagery is a valuable tool for spotting irrigation errors.

“Using the NDVI imagery I have found that some fields I thought were dry actually turned out to be wet. I was able to reduce irrigation which will increase growth and save time. The maps were really intuitive to use, I could see clearly the effect of irrigation from the imagery as there was not an increase in positive growth between weekly images for these fields.”

As a result of altering irrigation Jaco has reduced his farm’s water consumption by hundreds of litres. This saving is particularly important because Arizona is facing a severe water shortage. After 19 years of drought all industries in Arizona are required to reduce water use as part of the state Drought Contingency Plan (source). With the appropriate inputs, farms in Arizona and California can get 8 to 10 cuttings from one alfalfa field in a year but with drip irrigation that number is even higher (source). 

“The satellite maps work great for me. On each image, I can clearly see which alfalfa fields have been cut. With 7000 ha to manage the satellite imagery can be used to monitor the progress of the crop growth and harvest.” 

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