How can water companies monitor cover crops accurately?

Remote sensing monitoring of cover crop prevalence offers a low-cost, scalable approach to assessing the risk to water resources of agricultural runoff and leaching.

Hummingbird Technologies provides water companies with Cover Crop Detection Analysis to inform decision-making about water resources and engagement with farmers and landowners.

Cover crops are a key component of regenerative agriculture, protecting soil from erosion and runoff and increasing soil organic matter through root exudates during the non-growing season.

How our technology works

Using Sentinel 2 satellite data and a threshold of NDVI as an indicator of green coverage on the soil, the Hummingbird Technologies Data Scientists apply an algorithm to detect coverage of the soil during the growing season and the non-growing season.

This enables the model to:

  1. Detect cover crops
    and
  2. Count the number of days per year where soil is protected by growing plants.

This enables monitoring and verification of regenerative farming practices at large scale and low cost.

In the case study, Dr. Nick Synes, one of our Data Science Team at Hummingbird Technologies, has analysed the prevalence of cover crop practices in proximity to the River Wensum in Norfolk, UK.

By looking at the number of fields planted with cover crops in each of the last 4 seasons we can see geospatial and temporal trends in cover crop practices by farmers in the region.

Cover crop usage has become less common in recent years in the region. The percentage of farmed area protected by cover crops during the winter months fell from 73% to 64% between 2017 and 2020, falling from above to below the UK average of around 66%.

This may be because of a decrease in cover crop uptake incentive schemes or other economic or environmental factors facing farmers in the region.

Runoff Risk Profile

Another notable point is that there is serial correlation in the uptake of cover crop practices across the area of interest, i.e. there is persistent regional variation in the prevalence of cover crops, suggesting that engagement with specific farmers and landowners could generate significant improvements in the runoff risk profile of the catchment area.

assessing risk to water resources

Cover Crop Monitoring Service

Water companies wishing to monitor the cover crops in their region can set up a meeting with Hummingbird Technologies here

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