Tracking crop production from the sky leads to delicious rural finds

We’ve got the tech, so how far off are we from satellite imagery replacing Statistics Canada’s phone surveys?

We’re half-kidding, but yes, some information formerly gathered through phone calls has already been shifted to remote sensing, says Leander Campbell, remote sensing specialist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC).

You may not know it, but each year AAFC compiles coast-to-coast maps and images of actively growing crops. From there, specialists like Campbell pour over the data to look at what’s planted where, how much is in summer fallow,  what crop the land was in last year or the year before, and much more.

Leander Campbell in Nova Scotia, 2016

As with any aerial or satellite imagery, what you see on a screen still needs to be verified somehow. In the prairie provinces and Quebec, crop insurance data has a geo-location attached, making “ground truthing” much easier. In B.C., Ontario, and the Atlantic provinces, however, specialists hit the road for some face-to-crop meet ups to record what crop type is growing where. That information then informs the remote sensing algorithm on identifying crop type.

I sat down with Campbell at last week’s Ottawa Valley Farm Show to talk about what AAFC does with these maps, but, more importantly, how cool it is to tour the back roads of rural Canada and discover the hidden gems and delicious treats you’ll only find when you’re off the beaten path.

Want to follow Campbell on Twitter? Find his profile here.

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