We tend to think of the seasons as fixed in time. But when it comes to pasture management, the duration of each vital spring growth period is determined not only by the calendar but by the quality of your decisions.
Pushing that seasonal curve forward to help farmers optimize their grazing pasture is the ultimate goal of Pasture.io, an automated decision support platform initially developed for CEO Ollie Roberts’ family dairy farm. “It’s about taking pasture measurements and making the best informed grazing decisions,” said Ollie. “The pasture itself is a life form that responds positively to good pasture management. Looking after pastures better in the winter allows farmers to get out of the blocks quicker when the air gets warmer, which can lead to four to six extra weeks of spring growth.”
But getting there isn’t easy. Pasture management is a delicate balancing act. “If the pasture is grazed too heavily, it doesn’t have time to keep restoring its energy and carbohydrate reserves,” explained Ollie. “That means it will thin out and die.” This sets off a negative cycle, where there is less pasture on the next grazing rotation because it hasn’t had time to grow back, which means it is even less likely to meet the livestock’s feed demands.
Likewise, under-grazing can be a problem. As Ollie noted, “If you are underutilizing the pasture, it starts to build up dead leaves in its understory and rot underneath.” As a result, the plant changes, becoming less nutritious, providing your livestock with less energy and protein.
Farmers must find the ideal balance by carefully influencing where and when the herd grazes. Pasture.io developed machine learning models to process a range of data on things like grazing events, fertilizer applications, and nutrients in the ground, ultimately providing decision support to farmers to ensure their pastures grow through an optimal life cycle.
Despite the potential, farmers were still skeptical that the time it would take to gather and enter the data into the platform was worth it. “Early on, we hit a snag trying to sell a service where farmers had to go out and measure their pastures manually and then record that measurement into the platform,” Ollie explained. To win over farmers, they had to find a way to deliver quality data automatically.
Using Planet’s API, Pasture.io programmatically processes our PlanetScope 8-band satellite data and runs it through its machine learning models to be analyzed with other data (atmospheric data, weather information, fertilizer applications, etc.). The system then presents the farmer with a given pasture’s biomass, growth rates and other essential pasture metrics. “We deliver a satellite-backed pasture measurement more than twice a week and a pasture update daily with our advanced algorithms, which means the farmer has more data flowing into their system,” Ollie said. “That allows them to adjust where they’re grazing and choose which paddock is next, culminating in more profit for our farmers.”
Many farmers want to see things with their own eyes, and in the Pasture.io platform, satellite data gives them a unique perspective. “They can use that spatial data in the platform and interpret it the way they want, laid over the top of their paddock maps,” Ollie explained. “The farmer might notice, for example, that they’ve got a clogged irrigation nozzle on a center pivot because they can see the dry circle going around the paddock where the color looks different to the rest, or they can get a better understanding of which areas of the paddock grow more pasture. ”
Our satellite imagery can be particularly valuable in high-rainfall areas like New Zealand, Ireland, and the United Kingdom, where heavy cloud coverage makes visibility a perpetual problem. Before using Planet satellite data, Pasture.io noted that sometimes they had to wait 56 days before receiving a clear, cloudless image. But with Planet, the high-frequency and resolution quality fixed that problem. “We’re delivering our customers a satellite-backed pasture reading on average every 2.8 days and they receive many consecutive days of satellite images. That’s phenomenal and made possible by Planet,” Ollie exclaimed.
As for the future, Ollie believes Pasture.io will only gain more from Planet data. “As a longtime partner, Planet just keeps getting better to work with,” Ollie said. “Its development of new services and features helps us continue to deliver a better product to our farmers, who are some of the best regenerative grazing farmers in the world.”