Remote Sensing and GIS Applications for Agriculture

Rajesh Solomon Paul
Rajesh Solomon Paul
Project Lead (GIS)
RMSI Private Ltd.
A-7, Sector 16, NOIDA (U.P.)
PIN- 201301, INDIA

Dr. K.S. Siva Subramanian
Dr. K.S. Siva Subramanian
Deputy General Manager (GIS)
RMSI Private Ltd.
A-7, Sector 16, NOIDA (U.P.)
PIN- 201301, INDIA

In the early 1980’s, the Department of Space, India initiated the use of remote sensing for land, wasteland, and hill area development. In the early 1990’s ITC, a private company extensively used remote sensing for crop acreage estimation. Today remote sensing and GIS applications are being widely used for various projects relating to natural resource management.

Remote Sensing and GIS applications for agriculture can be classified as:
  • Creation of Agricultural Information System, by combining information derived from source satellite images and data collected from other sources
  • Agricultural Information based applications such as, insurance, commercial distribution studies of seeds, pests and fertilizers
  • Agricultural Livelihood or Commercial Enhancement Studies, such as, land development, agricultural risk mitigation studies, watershed management etc
Through this paper the authors have tried to provide a multifarious example of the above applications, while stressing the importance of remote sensing and GIS applications. Major emphasis has been attributed to variety level classification of crops, crop yield estimation for Insurance studies and agricultural risk mitigation studies. Utility of different satellites with different resolution, starting from low resolution MODIS, AWiFS to high resolution LISS IV data of IRS satellites have also been discussed in the paper.

Efficiency in the agricultural sector can be augmented effectively by using Information Technology tools such as remote sensing and GIS. The database for the agriculture sector can ensure greater reliability of estimates and forecasting that will help in the process of planning and policy making. Efforts to improve and harness latest remote sensing and information technology techniques to capture, collate, add value and disseminate data into appropriate destinations will be helpful for managing risk and in accelerating the growth process.

Areas of emphasis in agriculture segment
India has an agrarian economy with around 200 million people involved. In the current scenario unavailability of a comprehensive information database on agriculture system has often led to inefficiency in performance of the existing stakeholders.

Various questions arising in the minds of stakeholders have remained unanswered. The authors have listed a few below:
  1. No systematic and sharable database exists on:
    • Crops that can grow in any area
    • Area covered by each crop
    • Tentative yield of each crop
    • Farmers (names, land size, shape, location) engaged in cropping practice in that area and details of their land holdings
  2. Exporters require data on:
    • Acreage of crop that would be available for export
    • Base price that can be fixed based on supply and demand
    • Time by which the crop may reach the mandi
  3. Insurance sector companies require data:
    • To ascertain the actual premium to be levied in each ‘Insurance Circle’
    • To monitor growth of the Insurer’s crop
    • To ascertain if there is a real loss in the crop of the insurer
    • To assess the actual amount of compensation to be paid to the insurer
    • For timely payment of compensation in order to attract the farmer
  4. Fertilizer distribution companies require data on:
    • Crop type so that an assessment on the requirement of fertilizer in the region can be made
    • Land suitability and acreage of crop type to ascertain demand and supply of seeds & fertilizer
  5. Farmers require data on:
    • Crop type that will be best suited for their field during a particular season
    • Type and amount of fertilizer to be applied
    • Volume of water required for best yields
    • Location of mandi and the current price of their product in the market
  6. Government require data on:
    • Total expected produce of each crop type during the current year
    • Floods/draught conditions developing in different area
    • The farmers impacted by crop damage
    • The total irrigation water requirements and water conservation plan
    • Capacity of cold storage, godown and subsequent transport planning for disbursement
    • Total farm subsidies and whether the system is fully transparent
    • Tentative revenue collection
    • Cadastral level information
    • The location to open new mandi based on crop field location
Application of Remote Sensing and GIS for agriculture in India
In the early 1980’s, the Department of Space, India initiated the use of remote sensing for land, wasteland, and hill area development. In early 1990’s ITC, a private company extensively used remote sensing for crop acreage estimation. Presently ITC has its own portal e-kisan for farmers where they can easily access information on the crop and mandi to sell their crop. NDDB has developed a portal for purchase of milk at a rate based on the amount of fat in milk. ikisan is being developed as a comprehensive Agri portal to address the information, knowledge and business requirements of various players in the Agri arena such as Farmers, trade channel partners and Agri input/output companies.

Satellite based remote sensing technique combined with limited field survey provides valuable information in quick time. The data generated from satellite imageries provide information on the status of crops under observation at any particular date, and can be processed quickly. This inherent advantage provides a synoptic view, making it possible to analyze the status and trend of transplantation, crop growth and harvesting throughout the study area.

Wide spread application of remote sensing and GIS will be helpful for creating a systematic and sharable database on crop related issues and answer the unanswered questions of different stakeholders.

The figure below shows a general methodology adopted for extraction of data using remote sensing & GIS and its dissemination to different stakeholders.

Fig.1 Application of RS and GIS in agriculture

Many private companies like RMSI are engaged in providing remote sensing and GIS based services to different segments of agriculture. In the subsequent chapters the authors have discussed a few modern agricultural applications.

Data on agriculture for exporters
As discussed earlier, exporters need to fix a price with their customers as well as with the farmers well before the harvesting takes place. Such committed commerce can only be obtained by a systematic flow of information. The information sought by the exporters includes variety wise acreage estimation#, production estimation, health monitoring of crops, knowledge on draught and flood conditions and understand the farmer’s mind-set (farmer’s questionnaire survey). The authors have executed similar projects for Basmati crop in four states of North India.

These projects may involve the use of multi-temporal/multi-satellite sensor images depending on the requirement. The study also requires extensive field validation including collection of data from CCE experiments. A few indicative inputs are mentioned below.

Map showing distribution of Basmati in the state of Haryana during the Kharif 2005

Fig.2 Satellite based estimation of Basmati acreage with different GIS layers

Agriculture data for the insurance sector
Agricultural insurance is a growing phenomenon in India. Insurance companies assess the premiums and claim payout based on the agro-climatic zone, vulnerability of the crop to various disasters like floods or drought and crop yield. With the increasing competition in the insurance sector, insurance companies need to fix a proper premium and pay out claims on time, based on the crop yield of the insurer.

The timing and amount of rainfall is very critical for crop yield. Other factors like temperature, bright sunshine hours, wind speed, sources of seed, timely use and quantity of fertilizers are the other important factors affecting the crop vigour and ultimately the yield of the crop.

It is possible to assess the crop vigour using appropriate sets of satellite images during the critical stage of crop growth and correlate it with crop yield.

This data, when analyzed in conjunction with administrative boundaries such as Insurance blocks in a GIS environment, can help assessing the real ground conditions prevailing in the area concerned with a relatively good accuracy.

Authors have explored different mapping techniques for crops like wheat, sorghum, and gram using medium and high-resolution satellite images, GPS aided spectral signature and other ancillary data. Crop vigour in the form of NDVI is calculated for all types of crops for the current year and is compared with the NDVI values of the crops during the normal year to get the relative yield of the crop. The crop yield well before harvesting can help the insurance industries to pay out the compensation.

Fig.3 Satellite based estimation of crop stress

Agriculture data for fertilizer distribution companies
Different crops and agricultural fields require different types and amount of fertilizer. It is often observed that there is either a shortage or over supply of certain fertilizer in the market. This happens due to lack of information on agricultural fields.

Analyzing landuse, land capability, soil characteristics and farmer’s interest one can estimate the fertilizer requirement for a particular area.

Fig.4 GIS analysis for assessment of fertilizer requirement

Comprehensive agricultural information
The authors feel that apart from the various approaches adopted so far, the solution to all the existing problems of various stakeholders, farmers, Government and industrialists/exporters can be solved only by developing remote sensing & GIS based Agriculture Information System. In the proposed system, there will be three sections of RS-GIS component aided with GPS based field survey. Details on the various layers to be prepared and the sources on database creation are discussed below.

Creation of cadastral level information system
  • Field Information System - With the launch of Cartosat satellite having a resolution of 2.5m it is now possible to map the boundaries of each field. This data supplemented with information from field and other sources will help in creation of ‘Field Information System’
  • Site Suitability Studies – Use of satellite images and other ancillary & historical information will be done to create a plot level site suitability map for each season. This map will be very helpful in selection of appropriate crop for maximum return. Following layers will be required to be created for site suitability analysis:
  • - Soil map
    - Soil salinity
    - Soil pH
    - Canal and distributaries network
    - Surface water bodies distribution (river, ponds and lakes)
    - Historical rainfall data
    - DEM
    - LU/LC

System for on-line monitoring of crops
Regular monitoring of crops helps in taking proper measures based on the nature of risk for a particular crop field. Monitoring of crops also helps in calculation of acreage, crop stress and prediction of yield. This in turn helps different stakeholders in planning and management of crops. Following layers need to be created during different life span of crops to monitor their proper growth and finally the yield:
- Temperature
- Rainfall
- NDVI /crop stress
- Evapo-transpiration data
- Total precipitable water data
- Agricultural practices (transplantation, harvesting, tillering and flowering dates)
- Additional information about fertilizers, seeds etc

Market related database
Data on different aspects of market is a critical component for agriculture information system. Following layers will be required to be created:
- Creation of field-level crop inventory
- Location of different mandi’s
- Market-wise information on major agricultural commodities
- Timely forecast on production
- Demand and supply of commodities
- Mapping of transportation network (highways, railway and other roads)
- Shortest route from crop field to mandi
- Information on current price

Web based information system
In order to provide complete information to the farmers, traders and consumers - web GIS* has been effectively used and easily accessed through Internet from any part of the world. This system includes information about the crop varieties, farm management practices, markets, current prices and weather related information amongst others.

The concept of e-chaupal of ITC helps farmers to sell their produce directly and thereby fetch good returns. Farmers can send on-line queries related to crops, markets, and crop management practices through various centers.

Fig.5 Components of web-GIS for agriculture

Application of remote sensing and GIS is revolutionizing planning and management in the field of agriculture. Various agencies are working independently on different segments of the problems discussed above. However, the efforts made in this field are still insignificant and there is a need for development of an integrated database. The information derived from this data can be used to reveal vegetative health, pinpoint the location of non-productive areas, and help in effectively planning and analyzing operations. This information can be shared with all those associated with management and marketing of crops to plan for their procurement, storage, distribution and export, in advance.

  • “Satellite Remote Sensing and GIS - An Effective Tool For Management of Basmati Crop", Rice India, March 2004, co-authored by Parveen Aggarwal, Sudhakar Manda, Shalabh P. Bharadwaj, and B. Arun Kumar.
  • “Information Technology in Agriculture” co-authored by J C Raja and Neeradh Razdan, Birla Technical Services, New Delhi, India. Balla Aruna Kumar, Rajesh Paul, Shalabh Bharadwaj, Sudhakar Manda and Dr K.S.Siva Subramanian, RMSI Pvt Ltd., Noida, India.
  • “Use of Information Technology in Agriculure”, Malobika Ghatak PGPABM-2002 MANAGE. Hyderabad-500030