Food production and agriculture underpin human society and the sector faces a remorseless need to increase productivity. Due to population growth, shrinking of arable land and climate change, the sector is expected to face significant changes. The costs associated with agriculture as a result of increased environmental demands and other regulations are gaining pace and policy makers are supporting the agriculture sector and its transformation on a national and European level. Efficient and sustainable farming solutions can drive this transformation by increasing productivity while at the same time reducing costs, waste and environmental impact.
The integration of space-based and terrestrial systems has proved very effective in this respect. There is an increasing opportunity for customised solutions and innovative services that combine yield optimisation with a lessening of environmental impact, notably through precision farming and enhanced irrigation management that reduces the use of pesticides and water.
Precision farming involves the measuring and monitoring of inputs including fertilisers, pesticides, water resources, labour and machine hours. The market was worth an estimated USD 4 billion in 2018 and is expected to grow at around 15% CAGR from 2019 to 2025. The Internet of Things (IoT) and automation are already playing a key role and adoption of such technologies is expected to increase. Space assets such as satellite communications can provide a secure means of data transmission and can be complemented with Earth observation to monitor soil moisture or predict weather/environmental events that could affect the yield. Satellite navigation plays an important role for real-time tracking and tracing of farm assets which can help calculate optimal routes for (autonomous) tractors maximising efficiency and the utilisation of the machinery. The tracking of farm assets is not just limited to machinery but can also be applied to tracking of livestock for virtual fencing, and tracking of animal fertility or animal protection purposes.
The space environment, and in particular the effects of microgravity and cosmic radiation among other harsh conditions, provide also a unique laboratory for the study of plant growth, cultivation, seed storage and plant biology in generally. Studying crops under these conditions can help industry to improve methodologies for cultivation of plants under harsh conditions and in closed environments, providing valuable solutions for novel agricultural approaches for food production.
On a macro level perspective, services that can evaluate agricultural statistics and regulatory requirements can help policy makers ensure food security at regional, national or international level. Policy obligations such as the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, the EU’s Green Deal, and the Area Monitoring System of the Common Agriculture Policy can be assessed and monitored with the help of Earth observation data. It can also complement national agricultural statistics by supporting the optimisation of supply chains and forecasting future food supply through crop yield analysis and estimations (e.g. health, nutrients and maturity).
The increase in extreme climate events such as floods, drought and frosts are severely affecting agricultural production and food security. Farmers, national governing bodies and, insurance companies are affected by this and therefore can benefit from airborne and satellite imagery to help further understand the effects of climate change on agricultural production and investigate climate neutral practices.