NASA Harvest tracks frontline agriculture patterns with Planet’s satellite data
In the midst of the Russo-Ukrainian war, more cropland than was initially expected has been both harvested and planted along both the Russian-occupied and Ukrainian-held territories, according to NASA Harvest research.
Leveraging Planet’s satellite image datasets, NASA Harvest has been monitoring potential threats to global food security caused by the Russo-Ukrainian War. After releasing their first in-depth report, the group of Harvest researchers continued analysis of the current state of agriculture in the world’s breadbasket.
Harvest’s Rapid Assessment Team based at the University of Maryland and University of Strasburg have delineated and mapped all agriculture fields across the country’s 25 oblasts. Their latest findings from August 2022 show that 29% of winter cereals, 21% of summer/spring crops, and 13% of rapeseed are now under Russian occupation. However, across both sides (including the temporarily Russian-occupied territories), most of the winter crops like wheat and rapeseed, which would have been planted in the fall of 2021, have still been harvested. As for the spring planting, which includes commodity crops like corn and sunflower, NASA Harvest’s results also found that while there is a higher proportion of unplanted areas in the Russian-occupied regions, planting and harvesting is still occurring on both geographical sides of the conflict. In fact, NASA Harvest is currently estimating a higher production out of the region than other publicly-sourced estimates.
“These results suggest that while agricultural activity has continued across the war-torn region, the greatest impacts on crop production are demonstrably seen across the frontlines of the warzone and within the temporarily-occupied areas,” said Dr. Inbal Becker-Reshef, Program Director for NASA Harvest.
Their analysis also shows a stark contrast along the frontlines of the war where soil lays bare, high concentrations of crops go unharvested, and fires scorch the land. Satellite imagery and graphical mapping depict a strong correlation between the distance between unplanted fields and the reported military borders, allowing one to almost draw a line through these regions — halted in time — to denote the frontline of the conflict.
While agricultural burning has been historically observed in Ukraine, satellite imagery is showing a clear pattern in 2022 that closely follows the frontline of the conflict. In previous years, fires have been distributed across agricultural growing regions, but this year fires are heavily concentrated along the current warzone boundaries.
“Planet’s high cadence PlanetScope data, paired with other public datasets, has allowed our team to collect these insights despite frequent cloud cover over Ukraine. It’s made a massive difference for our work. By having satellite data of each location every single day, we are able to conduct agricultural analyses across all fields in Ukraine despite challenging weather patterns,” said Dr. Becker-Reshef.
For NASA Harvest, Planet’s daily satellite imagery coupled with our biweekly basemaps, provides vital information on food security impacts in regions experiencing war.
“When researchers can’t be on the ground to see how many fields have been abandoned or where crops are caught in fire – especially in the case of Russian-occupied territories, satellite data helps complete the picture, and reveals how conflict impacts food production not just for the region, but for the world,” said Andrew Zolli, Planet’s Chief Impact Officer.
Over the course of the conflict, Planet has worked with and supplied data to nearly 30 NGOs and intergovernmental bodies like NASA Harvest who are supporting a number of humanitarian operations in Ukraine, such as: civilian evacuation; planned de-mining operations; conducting building damage assessments; tracking alleged human rights abuses; and trying to mitigate and measure impacts to food supplies.