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For a large part of human history, agriculture has been the main occupation for earning livelihood and food. Even in the 21st century, more than 75 per cent of rural population depends on agriculture for their livelihood and are involved in the production of food and raw materials.

It plays a significant role in almost every nation. Food security has remained the top most priority for every right thinking country. The production of food is important to everyone and producing food in a cost-effective manner is the goal of every farmer, small or big. A farmer needs to be informed to be efficient, and that includes having the knowledge and information products to forge a viable strategy for farming operations. These tools will help him understand the health of his crop, extent of infestation or stress damage, or potential yield and soil conditions. Commodity brokers are also very interested in how well farms are producing because yield (both quantity and quality) estimates for all agricultural products control price and worldwide business trading.

Today satellite images are used for classification of crops, crop health assessment, crop damage assessment, yield estimation, and monitoring of farming operations and practices. Although Remote Sensing is being used worldwide in very innovative ways, we can classify them in following major categories:

  • Crop type classification
  • Crop condition assessment
  • Crop yield estimation
  • Compliance monitoring (farming practices)

Crop Type Classification helps various national and international agencies in preparing an inventory of what was grown where and when. This classification also helps in acreage estimation which means to determination area of cultivation under each crop type. Using remote sensing technologies it has become relatively easier. The yearly inventory of crop type classification helps in collecting crop production data, crop rotation records, mapping of soil fertility, crop stress reasons, assessment of crop damage due to storms or other natural phenomena.

Crop Condition Mapping is basically an assessment of health of crop in relation to infestations, moisture deficiency, fungal and weed infestations etc. Remote sensing technology helps in early delineation of patches of under-performing crops due to any of the above factors. This process requires imagery to be supplied on a frequent basis, sometimes once in two days. Assessment of crop condition using satellite imagery helps the farmer in identifying the areas where application of pesticide or fertilizer is required. This helps in conservation of the environment by way of efficient of use of chemicals.

Crop Stress is when the plants do not grow optimally as expected. Plants have a particular way to reflect the electromagnetic radiation. This unique characteristic is known as the vegetation’s spectral signature. Reflectance of vegetation is very low in the blue and red regions of the electromagnetic spectrum, slightly higher in the green region and high in the near infra-red. The normal growth process of a plant can be disrupted when it goes through a stress period. When in stress, the plant is not functioning properly because of one or more causes. When a plant is stressed, it usually expresses certain visible symptoms, but also some that are not visible to the human eye. Following are few important reasons of crop stress:

  1. Insects
  2. Moisture Deficiency
  3. Fungal Infections
  4. Nutrient Deficiency
  5. Soil Characteristics

There are many people involved in the trading, pricing, and selling of crops that never actually set foot in a field. They need information regarding crop health worldwide to set prices and to negotiate trade agreements. Many of these people rely on products such as a crop assessment index to compare growth rates and productivity between years and to see how well each country’s agricultural industry is producing. This type of information can also help target locations of future problems, for instance the famine in Ethiopia in the late 1980′s, caused by a significant drought which destroyed many crops. Identifying such areas facilitates in planning and directing humanitarian aid and relief efforts.

Crop Yield Estimation using Remote sensing technology has proved as a useful application for agricultural production forecasts. In the past, spectral data acquired via satellite have been extensively utilized for crop yield modeling in various parts of the world. The important assumption in use of remote sensing data for crop modeling is that the spectral data is strongly related with canopy parameters which are related to final yield at a critical stage of the crop growth. Several studies have established good correlation between vegetation indices and grain yield using single date data near heading/flowering. In India a major project on “Crop Acreage and Production Estimation (CAPE) has been carried out under the Remote Sensing Applications Mission by Department of Agriculture and Cooperation and Department of Space to develop methodology for state level acreage and production estimation of important crops.

Compliance Monitoring is an important where the agricultural policies in certain countries permit Land use as per existing Management practices. Type use of land and cadastral information monitoring is important when farmer claims compensation for crop loss due to natural factors such as flooding, cloud-bursts, storms etc. Each claim can be thoroughly verified using remote sensing technologies and suspicious claims be investigated.

Agriculture is the mainstay occupation of majority of Indian Population

False color composite image from IKONOS acquired over an agricultural area in N. Dakota. The red, green, and blue colors show reflectances in the near IR, red, and green wavelengths, respectively. Different tones of red brightness in the near IR wavelength are associated with differences in crop condition, vigor and maturity. Arrows indicate areas where there are problems with crop condition as indicated by low near IR reflectance.