Space-age tech hits pastures

Space-age tech hits pastures


Beef Week News 2018
GAME-CHANGER: Cibo Labs managing director Phil Tickle says remote sensing can now estimate pasture biomass accurately across large areas.

GAME-CHANGER: Cibo Labs managing director Phil Tickle says remote sensing can now estimate pasture biomass accurately across large areas.

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Advances in remote sensing have been a "game-changer" for estimating pasture biomass from space to a paddock level, according to Qld-based geospatial information systems expert Phil Tickle.

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Advances in remote sensing have been a "game-changer" for estimating pasture biomass from space to a paddock level, according to Qld-based geospatial information systems expert Phil Tickle.

The guest speaker at two Sheep Connect SA technology workshops held in Naracoorte and Jamestown last week said it was possible to build algorithms to quickly estimate the kilograms of pasture per hectare available in a paddock and help predict the number of grazing days ahead on-farm.

Mr Tickle who has 30 years' experience working in the area with natural resources management and agriculture, founded Cibo Labs about a year ago.

Cibo Labs uses Sentinel satellites from the European space agency that pass above Australia every five days to gain images of properties to a 10-metre resolution.

For the past 30 years or more, the main imagery used in agricuture was the normalised difference vegetation index, which Mr Tickle says is only useful when the crop or pasture is green.

Instead, Cibo Labs has developed a fractional cover model using 13 different wavelengths of light to accurately measure pasture across the whole year.

"For every individual pixel we can predict the ground cover levels to 5 per cent to 10pc of the bare ground there and the proportion of the sward that is brown or green we can get to plus or minus 10pc," he said.

Late last year Cibo Labs worked with six corporate cattle companies generating pasture biomass maps for a 500,000 square kilometre area of Qld and the NT's Barkly Tablelands.

He said some ground truth work was still needed, taking pasture cuts or sampling a few areas with pasture plate meters to generate a height and density curve, but instead of weeks each station only spent two days doing this.

"If a million-hectare property had a rangeland officer they would normally spend three to four weeks just driving to each paddock to look across the paddock and guess how many kilograms per hectare is available to set stocking rates," he said.

"The day after the measurements were taken we were able to build predictions and within four weeks could generate estimate kilograms of biomass across the whole Barkly Tablelands."

Mr Tickle encouraged South East producers to band together and use their mobile phone, which had a camera and in-built GPS, to collect data to develop a predictive model.

"What if every one of you in this room spent one hour cutting and weighing grass in a paddock for a quarter of a square metre transect and told us how high it is?

"We would generate an enormous amount of information and it would not be an impost on one producer to collect all the data."

Mr Tickle also highlighted some national work they were doing to help farmers, particularly pastoralists, get on the front foot.

In the past month Cibo Labs has been processing three-monthly satellite images for the past 30 years to develop land condition maps for every farm in Australia.

"The World Wildlife Fund, the Wilderness Society and other NGOs are hiring people to monitor land clearing in their own right so we are working with Meat & Livestock Australia to arm individual producers with the same information or better information than the government have got," Mr Tickle said.

"If anyone asks questions around environmental stewardship and sustainability you will have better information than the government to prove your case."

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