WebGIS | GeoAI | EO

Revolutionizing regenerative agriculture with geospatial technology

Complex challenges of modern agriculture include climate change impacts, soil degradation, water scarcity, biodiversity loss, excessive chemical use, and unsustainable practices. Agriculture is a dominant contributor to water stress, and nearly 91% of our freshwater is used for agriculture (FAO, 2016). In 2018 agriculture and related landuse contributed to 17 percent of the total GHG emissions globally, down from 24 percent in the 2000s (FAO,2020). However, the low profitability does not allow smallholder farmers to deploy relevant technologies to combat climate change. Farmers worldwide face pressure to increase yields through overgrazing, intensive soil tillage, monoculture cropping, and heavy reliance on chemical fertilizers, which may not be sustainable in the long term. Increasing agricultural productivity with environmental sustainability, promoting equitable access to resources, and adopting advanced technologies while addressing these challenges are crucial for the future of agriculture. Regenerative agriculture is a potential solution to these problems.

 


Farmers around the world are facing pressure to increase yields through practices such as overgrazing, intensive soil tillage, monoculture cropping, and heavy reliance on chemical fertilizers, which may not be sustainable in the long term.


 

What is regenerative agriculture?​

Regenerative agriculture is an approach to farming and land management that focuses on restoring and enhancing the health and resilience of ecosystems while simultaneously producing food and other agricultural products. This approach goes beyond sustainable agriculture by actively improving soil health, biodiversity, and ecological functions.


How much do you think soil health can affect climate resiliency?

Apparently, quite a lot!


The key principles and practices of regenerative agriculture include:

  • Minimal Disturbance: Reducing soil disturbance through no-till or reduced-till practices helps protect soil structure and prevent erosion. It also preserves soil microorganisms and reduces carbon loss.
  • Crop Diversity: Rotating crops diversifies plant species, disrupts pest cycles, and improves soil health. Different crops have varying nutrient requirements, helping to maintain soil fertility.
  • Soil Health: Regenerative agriculture strongly emphasizes building and maintaining healthy soils. Practices such as minimal or no-till farming, cover cropping, crop rotation, and reduced chemical inputs improve soil structure, fertility, water-holding capacity, organic matter content and nutrient availability.
  • Cover Cropping: Cover crops are planted between cash crops to prevent soil erosion, improve soil structure, and fix nitrogen. They also provide habitat for beneficial insects and microorganisms.
  • Compost and Organic Matter: Adding compost and organic matter to the soil enriches its microbial life, improves nutrient availability, and boosts overall fertility.
  • Reduced Chemical Inputs: Regenerative agriculture minimizes the use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. Integrated pest management and other practices are used to control pests and weeds naturally.
  • Carbon Sequestration: The incorporation of organic matter into the soil and the restoration of native vegetation help sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, mitigating climate change.
  • Economic Sustainability: Regenerative agriculture aims to be economically viable for farmers by reducing input costs, improving crop yields and quality, and enhancing long-term farm profitability.
  • Community and Local Markets: Community engagement and direct marketing of agricultural products to local consumers and businesses will reduce the carbon footprint associated with transportation.

 


An increase in soil organic matter by 1% per 0.4 hectare can increase the water storage potential by more than 75,000 litre


 

Thus, regenerative agriculture recognizes the interconnectedness of soil, plant, and ecosystem health. It seeks to create farming systems that are not only economically viable but also environmentally and socially sustainable. This approach has gained attention as a potential solution to address issues such as soil degradation, biodiversity loss, climate change, and the long-term viability of agriculture.

What is the role of Geospatial Technology?

Geospatial technology plays a significant role in regenerative agriculture by providing valuable data and tools to support sustainable and environmentally friendly farming practices. Here’s how geospatial technology contributes to these efforts:

Soil Health Assessment:

  • Geospatial technology can be used to asses soil health and quality by analyzing factors like soil moisture, organic matter content, and nutrient levels.
  • Soil maps provide detailed information about soil types, allowing farmers to make informed decisions about crop selection and land management practices.
Figure 1 Global soil health status for present land use

Precision Agriculture:

  • Geospatial technology enables precision agriculture, where data from GPS, GIS, and remote sensing are used to optimize planting, irrigation, and fertilization.
  • Farmers can create variable rate application maps that guide them in applying inputs precisely where needed, reducing resource wastage and minimizing environmental impacts.
Figure 2 A field is divided into 3 zones that require a varying amount of fertilizer (Source: Peter, 2022)

Crop Monitoring and Yield Prediction:

  • Satellite and drone imagery, combined with GIS, provide real-time monitoring of crop health, growth, and yield potential.
  • With this information farmers can identify areas of concern, implement timely interventions, and make data-driven decisions to maximize crop yields.
Figure 3 NDRE map of an area is used for crop monitoring. NDRE map shows the Chlorophyll content, an important indicator of plant health. On a standard scale of -1 to +1, -1 to 0.2 indicates bare soil or a developing crop, 0.2 to 0.6 indicates an unhealthy crop or a pre-mature crop, and 0.6 to 1 indicates a healthy, mature and ripening crops.

Biodiversity and Conservation Planning:

  • Geospatial tools help identify ecologically sensitive areas on farms, such as wetlands, riparian zones, and wildlife habitats.
  • Farmers can use this information to implement conservation practices, such as buffer strips and wildlife corridors, to promote biodiversity and ecosystem services.

Water Resource Management:

  • Geospatial technology assists in mapping and monitoring water resources on farms, including groundwater levels, surface water availability, and water quality.
  • Farmers can optimize irrigation practices to conserve water and reduce the risk of water-related environmental issues.
Figure 4 NDMI index is used for crop monitoring and water resource management. The lighter purple color on map shows reduces moisture content in plants. Using this farmer can identify areas of fields that needed additional watering or areas with excessive moisture

Crop Rotation and Cover Crop Planning:

  • GIS helps in designing crop rotation and cover cropping plans to improve soil health and prevent soil erosion. 
  • Farmers can use geospatial data to schedule the planting of cover crops in areas prone to erosion or nutrient depletion.

Carbon Sequestration and Emissions Reduction:

  • Geospatial technology can estimate the carbon sequestration potential of agricultural practices, such as no-till farming and afforestation.
  • Farmers can participate in carbon offset programs by implementing practices that sequester carbon and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Land Use Planning:

  • GeoAI can assist in identifying suitable areas for regenerative agriculture practices, taking into account factors like topography, soil type, and climate conditions.
  • This helps farmers and policymakers make informed decisions about land use.

Farm Infrastructure Planning:

  • GIS assists in planning farm infrastructure, including the layout of farm buildings, roads, and irrigation systems.
  • Smart farm design reduces energy consumption, minimizes environmental impact, and optimizes land use.

In summary, geospatial technology provides a powerful suite of tools to revolutionize regenerative agriculture. By leveraging these tools, farmers can make informed decisions to enhance soil health, reduce environmental impact, and promote sustainable farming practices, ultimately contributing to a more resilient and ecologically responsible agricultural system. It’s essential to strike a balance between increasing agricultural productivity and environmental sustainability.

 

References:

FAO, 2016. AQUASTAT Website. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) [WWW Document]. URL. http://www.fao.org/nr/water/aquastat/countries_regions/IND/, Accessed date: 15 October 2023.

FAO. 2020. Emissions due to agriculture. Global, regional and country trends 2000–2018. FAOSTAT Analytical Brief Series No 18. Rome

Peter Kogut, 2022. EOS Website. URL. https://eos.com/blog/precision-agriculture/, Accessed date: 14 October 2023.

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