Why forestry leaders need to meet an army with an army (but get high first)

For many forestry leaders bark beetle can feel like an army marching across the forests of Northern Europe, causing devastation, and reducing timber prices and margins in its wake. Each successive year seems to threaten more damage than the one preceding it. According to Landskogsbruk in Sweden 17% more timber has been harvested than during the first five months of last year, primarily due to the army of beetles, and of course, we’re seeing timber prices drop in response to the surplus.

It’s hardly news that warmer seasonal temperatures driven by climate change is one of the biggest contributing factors to this growth. But what’s especially worrying is that entomologists are noting that with the increase in beetle populations, and the requirement of this army to feed, they are increasingly targeting healthier trees as opposed to rotten ones. Another impact on margin.

What’s to be done? Well despite those first two paragraphs of doom, don’t panic. To beat an army, you just need to think and act like one.

That process starts by recognising that modern warfare is a balance of the tried and tested ancient techniques developed hundreds of years ago by military leaders such as Sun Tzu, combined with the modern machinery of warfare, and that’s where the gap appears.

For many foresters, conducting ground surveys hasn’t really changed since the early 1900s, with the welcome exception of GPS referencing to improve it’s location accuracy. Teams go out into the woods, armed with tape measures, pencils, and a pad of real paper… They inspect the trees health in several small sample plots and use those estimates to gauge the entire forest.

We’re seeing the same ‘sampling’ approach with spruce beetle. One Nordic newspaper reported recently on the forester who is training his dog to sniff out bark beetle, we’ve met organisations that have bulk purchased drones and are hiring students to operate them across thousands of square kms of forest. It’s not that any of this is wrong, but it’s in danger of being the approach of a bunch of guerrilla troops – not an equipped and disciplined force.

Now, before anyone gets too offended, we think the brutal reality of bark beetle, and other invasive pests, is that Foresters need to assemble an army – with all the weapons and troops at their disposal. That might include dogs, drones and even, perhaps spy beetles able to penetrate enemy ranks and pass back messages on their movements. The key isn’t in whether they’re old or young, big or small, tried and tested or cutting-edge – they key is in how and where you choose to deploy them.

However, before you deploy your troops, as a great general you need to able to survey the battlefield. That means gaining the best vantage point. You need to get high. That used to mean hills, helicopters or planes. Today that means frequent satellite surveys. Anyone not regularly using satellite to identify spruce beetle outbreaks as close to when they start as possible, is risking reputation and margin. Yes, we would say that, we’re the leader in satellite-derived data analytics for forestry, but we still meet foresters who don’t trust satellite data, or use an annual snapshot (or even less frequently) to map an army who moves in weeks not months – and certainly not years. They are either too low, too little or too late.

Once you’ve surveyed the battlefield then you can decide where to send the dog, the drones and the teams. The key is focus and speed. Deploy your expensive resources exactly where you need them based on good intel, not where you think you might need them based on an outdated espionage technique.

It’s the combination of intel and resources that makes the difference to protecting profitability. Spotting beetle quickly, and deploying teams effectively can rescue lumber value, and may even help control disease spread.

The fundamental rules of battle haven’t changed in thousands of years, all that has really changed are the tools to wage it with. But above all, in the battle against the effects of Spruce Beetle, our message is clear – meet an army with an army.

Satellite Data Analytics Saving Dairy Farmers Valuable Time with New Grass Management Service

Grass SAT, an innovative, new grass management service is launched today by Rezatec, the geospatial data analytics company, to provide dairy farmers with automated daily updates of grass cover per paddock, and other features, to optimise grazing management decisions throughout the year.

Increasingly, dairy farmers are looking for new ways to save time, cuts costs and improve grass management activities. Currently, many farmers rely on manual methods, for example visual assessment or using a plate meter, which can be time intensive and require frequent manual updates to provide current and accurate estimates of grass cover.

Grass SAT, is an online grass management service for dairy farmers to optimise rotational grazing across their farms. Using a comprehensive grass growth model fed with regular analytics derived from satellite imagery, farmers are presented with a daily update of grass cover per paddock. The metrics are visualised in a secure portal supported with a grazing wedge, sorting grass cover from highest to lowest, as well as valuable decision support information such as number of grazing days per paddock and a colour-coded map of the farm presenting volumes and distribution of grass available.

The service is very easy to use and allows farmers to initially draw their paddocks in a digital map and add herd information before they are presented with their wedge and daily grass cover measurements. Farmers then update the portal with paddock activities, such as grazing or a cutting, and these feed into the model and revaluate the grass cover analytics.

John Brocklehurst, Dairy Farmer, Hilltop Farm, commented, “Utilising as much grazed grass as possible is a top priority KPI for our business and I hope by using Grass SAT it will provide me with more frequent grass measurements of the whole farm without having to walk it. The data is already informing my day to day grazing management and moving forward I hope to identify areas of the farm that are less productive and improve them as well as allocating grass to the cows more efficiently.

Farmers can also pull out paddocks for silage production as well as run multiple wedges if required and new features, including an App, will be available over the coming months.

Philip Briscoe, Chief Operating Officer, Rezatec explained, “We have been developing this product for a few years now and are confident it will make farmers lives much easier. With an initial discounted trial period of two months, farmers can also be confident of the time the service can save them simply by providing an automated daily update of grass cover.”

Grass SAT will also soon be available for beef and sheep farmers as well as general forage producers. For more information about Grass SAT visit the website: www.grass-sat.com.

END 

For editorial enquiries please contact:

Katie Whittington, Tel: 01865 817579, or email: katie.whittington@rezatec.com

Satellites vs. Lidar for Forestry Management?

Traditionally, monitoring and managing large forests has been a very costly and labour-intensive activity; involving ground teams to walk and observe a representative sample of forest. In recent years however, two new forms of forest analysis have emerged: Lidar and Satellites. Each offers new levels of data and insight not previously available to forest owners, but each with different characteristics.

Understanding the features of each method is crucial to identifying how and when to apply them to best effect.

In this blog post we look to unravel the two technologies to help foresters to gain a deeper understanding of both.

Lidar Data

Lidar (light detection and ranging) is an optical remote-sensing technique that uses laser light to examine the surface of the earth. Benefits of Lidar data include having high accuracy and good detail, however there are several drawbacks. Firstly, due to the labour-intensive process of collecting the data the costs are very high, this would typically include aircraft, employment costs and equipment. Then the price of obtaining the Lidar data isn’t the only thing you’ll have to pay for… The data will have to be processed by a highly skilled analyst and presented in a way that’s understandable showing the commercially important insights that were gathered.

Another disadvantage of Lidar is the gap between data updates, which can often be 5 – 10 years. By the time you’ve got your set of data, paid for someone to analyse it and are ready to use it, it could be out of date and your forest could look completely different. There could have been an infestation of beetles, or even fire damage! You’ll then have to wait up to 10 years to go through the whole process again and recapture a new set of data.

Realistically Lidar is only used to look at a portion of the forest, rather than a tool to manage the entire forest.

Satellite Data

Satellites can provide both optical and radar data across your entire forest. The refresh rates are also much higher with satellites typically passing overhead every week (cloud cover permitting). This frequency of monitoring allows for a much faster response to events, as well as temporal analysis – monitoring change over time.

The combination of both optical and radar data also affords a much wider range of applications. For example, you can determine tree species, mensuration and health analysis. The continuous management of forests using such up-to-date information means there are fewer chances to miss environmental and health changes. This can play an important factor in ensuring insurance claims are valid, by detecting things like fire and storm damage much quicker.

Satellite data has other advantages over Lidar; it is much less weather dependant as synthetic-aperture radar (a form of radar that is used to create two-dimensional images) can penetrate cloud cover, whatever the weather.

Image: Rezatec portal showing tree species distribution 

How to use this data?

Whichever method of gathering data you use, you’ll soon realise the biggest percentage of forest management costs arise from ground truthing, to make the data you’ve captured useful. With satellite data the need for ground-based manual data collection can now be minimised with the use of machine learning algorithms. This can reduce the amount of validation required and improve ground-based efficiency and targeting. So you only visit the relevant areas, hugely reducing costs.

Summary

Both Lidar and satellite data provide useful insights and can be used to complement each other. Rezatec’s GIS platform can incorporate Lidar as well as a number of other data sources, but satellite data is unique in its versatility, frequency of updates and ability to monitor very large areas.

By using earth observation satellite data, you get a continuous large-scale view of your forest. You can pair this with existing Lidar data you already have to enrich your view or use the satellite data as your stand-alone forestry management analytics.

Want to find out more? Download our guide: ‘Satellite-derived forestry intelligence’ or request a demo.

Monitoring Wildfires and Assessing Damage from Space

Rezatec’s geospatial data analytics service is helping foresters to salvage timber after devastating wildfires.

Not a day goes by without a wildfire burning in some part of the world. Fires are spreading across larger areas and burning more severely than ever before in modern times. Forest fires have occurred naturally for millions of years and play an important role in the long-term health of forest ecosystems; however, they also threaten lives and property, and leave many dying trees in their wake that act as kindling for yet more fires in the future.

Except for all but the most severely damaged, most trees can retain much of their commercial value directly after a fire. For the trees that survive, the resulting stress weakens them and makes them more vulnerable to disease, rot and moisture – meaning salvage is a very time-sensitive operation.

Satellite data analytics provide foresters with the information to locate, date and assess the extent of the damage accurately and quickly, allowing them to make informed and rapid salvage decisions.

Leading geospatial AI company, Rezatec, has produced a free guide ‘Assessing Forest Wildfire Damage from Space’ which outlines some of the key benefits of using satellite data to assess wildfire damage and plan salvage operations.

Download Guide

Tim Vallings, Vice President of Global Resources at Rezatec commented
 “With a complete and accurate picture of damage in hand, foresters are better prepared to make informed decisions on all timber salvage operations, resulting in both improved decision-making over which trees to salvage, and a higher resulting commercial return on salvage than would have otherwise been the case.”

Rezatec has produced a number of other guides relating to the application of satellite data for effective forest management including: Tree species identification form space and the early identification and mitigation of Spruce Beetle.

To learn more about how regularly updated satellite data could help you to better manage your forest or woodland, email info@rezatec.com or call +44 (0)1865 817500.

The Evolution of Earth Observation’ – Featuring Rezatec

The Evolution of Earth Observation’ published in this month’s Ingenia magazine (by the Royal Academy of Engineering) is a feature article exploring how satellite images are used to monitor changes in Earth’s natural and built environments, with applications in areas as diverse as land use, natural disasters and climate change.

The author, Science writer Tereza Pultarova, spoke to three industry leaders, including our very own COO Philip Briscoe, on how artificial intelligence is helping innovative companies such as Rezatec using satellite data to solve problems on Earth.

The article focuses on how Rezatec helped one of our clients, Portsmouth Water, which had witnessed rising nitrate levels in groundwater to understand more about the sources of this pollution.

You can read the article here.

Identifying Spruce Beetle infestations earlier using satellite data

Spruce Beetles have become an increasing threat to the forestry industry over recent decades. Outbreaks used to be episodic but are now at epidemic levels in many parts of the world.

Once an infestation is identified, it is a race against time to contain the outbreak and salvage affected timber before it loses its commercial value.

Rezatec, leading providers of geospatial data analytics for the forestry sector, have produced a guide: ‘Identify Spruce Beetle Infestations Earlier Using Satellite Data’, which examines how beetle infestation affects timber quality over time, the challenges of identifying infected trees using traditional methods, and how multi-spectral satellite data can help to identify affected stands before they lose much of their commercial value.

By assessing multi-spectral bands such as infra-red to measure more subtle indicators of plant health, infestation can be detected up to three months earlier than when using purely visual methods.

Tim Vallings, Vice President, Global Resources at Rezatec commented: “Identifying diseased trees as early as June allows foresters to validate, plan and fell in the same year, and thereby sell the timber as much as a year earlier than traditional methods allow to obtain a better market price.”

The key benefits of using satellite data to identify Spruce Beetle infestations are:

  • Regularly monitor subtle changes in tree health across entire forest
  • Identify outbreaks up to three months earlier
  • Salvage and sell timber up to one year earlier

Rezatec have produced a number of other guides relating to the application of satellite data for effective forest management including: tree species identification from space and a comparison of the benefits of satellite and lidar data for forestry analytics.

To learn more about how regularly updated satellite data could help you to better manage your forest or woodland, email info@rezatec.com or call +44 (0)1865 817500.

Rezatec provides AHDB with innovative geospatial data analytics to map true extent of potato crops across the UK.

Harwell, Oxfordshire, 2nd October 2018 – Rezatec, the leading provider of geospatial data analytics to the Infrastructure, Forestry and Agribusiness sectors, has been working with The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), to demonstrate the effectiveness of using satellite data to map the extent of potato crops in pilot locations across England and Scotland.

AHDB is the UK’s statutory levy board funded by farmers, growers and others in the supply chain. Its purpose is to inspire farmers, growers and industry to succeed in a rapidly changing world. The assessment of innovative technologies that can enable its vision is an important focus for AHDB and this project aims to evaluate the use of satellite data.

Looking at four sites spread across the UK, Rezatec applied its proven crop identification techniques to map locations of potato crops, down to individual fields, some of which just a few hundred square meters in size. A crop health map was then generated to highlight the extent and abundance of each potato field. This enables AHDB to better understand production areas of potatoes in the UK from season to season at a micro level.

Rezatec applies its geospatial data techniques to extract specific spectral indices across the growth cycle to create a signature that identifies the crop, using both optical and radar satellite data sources. By applying its in-house machine learning algorithms to these indices, Rezatec can distinguish potato from other crop types with up to 95% accuracy.

Additionally, through active remote sensing monitoring, Rezatec can also assess variables of crop performance, e.g. health, against the crop model through the growing season, and, using its data science techniques provide growers with critical information to take corrective action and ultimately increase crop yields.

Dr Jim Dimmock, Resource Management Scientist at AHDB summarised: “It is evident from our collaboration with Rezatec that the application of satellite data for mapping crop extent is of great value and compared to more traditional methods, we were impressed by the ability to scale across large areas with high levels of accuracy.”

Dr Andrew Carrel, Chief Technology Officer at Rezatec commented: “Rezatec’s agriculture management services are very versatile, ranging from identifying crops at a field, and even sub-field level, and monitoring crop performance, up to macro-level analytics to support commodity crop trading for multiple end-users including Government and traders.”

Rezatec provides its agricultural management services around the world to a wide range of agricultural end-users from sugar cane and wheat farmers in Mexico to dairy farmers in the UK.

Funding

Rezatec completes follow-on investment led by Harbert European Growth Capital to underpin continued global expansion

World-leading geospatial data analytics company Rezatec has announced a follow-on investment to its 2018 £2m Seed Round equity financing round, with Harbert European Growth Capital now providing a substantial growth debt facility to the Company.  This new facility will lend additional financial support to Rezatec as it continues its rapid rate of new customer acquisition across North America, Africa and Asia Pacific. Rezatec is seeing particularly strong demand for its geospatial data analytics in the Forestry, Infrastructure and Water sectors worldwide. This financing round follows on from a financial year that saw Rezatec subscription revenues grow by 7x from Q1 FY18 to Q4 FY18.

Rezatec plans to significantly expand its portfolio of proprietary geospatial technologies in the coming months. This expansion of Rezatec data science, machine learning and software tools will serve to meet new customer demand in existing vertical markets and beyond. The Company anticipates completing a substantial Series A transaction in the period ahead to finance this expansion of the business and its operations.

Patrick Newton, Chief Executive Officer at Rezatec stated, “We are very pleased to have secured the support of Harbert in building the Rezatec business. Their focus on high growth, innovative technology companies makes them an ideal fit for our business.”

Fahad Khan, Vice President at Harbert European Growth Capital said “We are delighted to partner with Rezatec’s strong management team and give them a global network in addition to capital to help support their growth ambitions. We are pleased to bring our close relationships within the European and American technology sector and welcome Rezatec to a portfolio of over 70 high growth companies”.

Rezatec delivers accurate, cost-efficient, highly valuable and scalable satellite data analytics to optimise the use of natural and man-made assets in the Forestry, Water, Agriculture and Infrastructure sectors.

Tree species mapping from space – it’s revolutionary!

Whether you’re the owner of a small private woodland or a forestry company responsible for millions of acres, Rezatec have created a free, useful guide on identifying and mapping tree species distribution.

Understanding what tree species you have and where they are is critical for effective forest management and commercial decision-making. The ‘Earth Observation for Tree Species Mapping’ guide, available here, explores the common challenges of identifying species using traditional aerial technologies and how satellite data can be used to quickly, accurately and cost-effectively identify and map tree species distribution.

Tim Vallings, Vice President, Global Resources at Rezatec commented:  “It shows you what’s going on in the entire forest, not just small parts of it, giving you a complete and accurate picture of tree species and their location.”

Rezatec presents the data in an online portal which makes it easy to understand for any stakeholder as well as taking the risk out of commercial ventures and supporting informed business decisions.

Tree species identification from satellite data requires calibration plots of less than 1 per 100 acres. Compared to other methods, this represents a significant saving in operational time and money.

The key benefits of using satellite data in tree species mapping are:

  • Savings of up to 80% in operational expenditure,
  • Refreshes up to every week,
  • Tree species accuracy up to 90%

So far, Rezatec have mapped tree species distribution to meet a variety of requirements across an expanding list of locations around the world, including the UK, US, Europe, Canada and Australia. Their robust methodology enables an ever-growing number of species to be classified with 80 to 90% accuracy, supporting informed commercial decisions. Rezatec can apply confidence limits for risk assessment, and as a result can create data suitable for a range of users.

To find out more about how your business could benefit from the detailed tree species insights they can provide using earth observation data contact Rezatec on +44 (0)1865 817500 or email info@rezatec.com . In the meantime, you could also learn more by reading their case studies on forested asset decision support and forest mapping in British Columbia.

Mobile app helping Mexican farmers improve sugar cane and wheat yield through the analysis of satellite data

Rezatec has launched a new mobile application aimed at helping Mexican farmers improve crop productivity and stabilise their incomes to facilitate rural community economic development under the UK Space Agency’s International Partnership Programme (IPP).

Wheat farming in the Yaqui Valley is at the forefront of new technologies for wheat compared to other parts of the developing world, however, the area was hit by a fungal disease (Karnal bunt), and export profits suffered. The effect from droughts from 1996 to 2004, also contributed to an overall fall in income from agriculture in the Valley of 40%. Average wheat yields are currently around 6.2 tonnes per hectare, with considerable variability from year to year. Annual profits from wheat production in the Valley varied by 60% per tonne from 2009 to 2017, with a steady rise in the total cost of production over time. Better management practices by smallholder farmers for nitrogen application, irrigation and weeds would help to improve yields and productivity.

The sugarcane industry currently generates more than 930,000 direct jobs and employs another 2.2 million people indirectly, contributing a total of around US$2.5 billion a year to the Mexican economy. The average yield is currently close to 70 tonnes of cane per hectare however smallholder farmers have below average productivity partly because they have not adopted modern methods of agriculture. They are also threatened by drought (especially because of under-developed irrigation infrastructure), pests, disease and weeds.

The overall challenge for both the wheat & sugarcane sectors is to transform both traditional extensive as well as modern intensive systems into sustainable systems producing more crop output with better use of resources and this requires better management of the interacting parameters controlling yield.

In response to these challenges, Rezatec has now launched a free mobile application ‘COMPASS V1.0’ (Crop Observation, Management and Production Analysis Service System) aimed at helping wheat and sugarcane smallholder farmers in Mexico, benefit from using Earth Observation (EO) satellite data with in field measurements to reduce production costs and increase crop yields. The ultimate aim is to ensure that farmer incomes become more stable, and therefore directly benefit farming families and rural communities, as well as addressing potential environmental issues.

Mexican COMPASS, is a four-year project launched in December 2016 under the UK Space Agency’s lnternational Partnership Programme (IPP), which aims to address real issues faced by emerging economies using satellite solutions whose outputs lead to a measurable and sustainable economic or societal benefit.

Ray Fielding, Head of IPP stated that “The UK Space Agency is delighted to be working with Rezatec on the Mexican Crop Observation, Management and Production Analysis Service System (COMPASS) project under our lnternational Partnership Programme. The release of this application will provide decision support tools to help Mexican farmers and smallholders to improve their crop management of wheat and sugarcane so that income stability is improved, thereby providing economic and societal benefit.”

Under the project, Rezatec has partnered in the UK with the University of Nottingham, supported by Booker Tate, and in Mexico, with CIMMYT (International Maize & Wheat Improvement Center) and MASCAÑA sugarcane research group from COLPOS (Colegio De Postgraduados).

Andrew Carrel, Chief Technical Officer, Rezatec commented, “Rezatec is excited to be part of the UK Space Agency’s International Partnership Programme, contributing our Earth Observation and Data Science technology to enable positive social, economic and environmental change in Mexico. We look forward to building on the success of this project to help other farming communities around the world.”

The project aims to target at least 1,200 farmers in Mexico during the project, with initially 38 farmers currently engaged and providing invaluable field data via the new mobile app which will be freely available to farmers.  The app will provide a portal for farmers to submit crucial information about their farming activities (such as sowing date, crop type and irrigation) and in return receive free recommendations as to when to undertake such activities in the future to maximum yield, as well as yield predictions.

Javier, one of the wheat farmers currently using the mobile app. said “The COMPASS App v1.0 is going to help me have all the management information from my fields handy and having the app. In the future advising on an optimum irrigation schedule to maximise my yield will be a huge benefit”.

Recently, the project was presented to the Mexican Ministry of Agriculture – SAGARPA, SIAP and INIFAP – and received very positive feedback, as well as offers of support from Government bodies to potentially extend the initiative for wheat and sugarcane farmers nationwide.

The services developed in the project will be sustainable after the funding from the IPP programme ceases through a fee-based subscription model whereby commercial companies, processors, government agencies and crop insurance providers will pay for enhanced datasets, aggregated data and more detailed analysis than the basic free data which is made available to smallholders.

The proven Mexican COMPASS model will be extended to other developing countries growing wheat and sugar cane to increase the viability and returns from using earth observation data to support smallholder farmers.

To find out more about the Compass project, click below.

COMPASS Project Showcase Page