TerrAvion’s Eye in the Sky For Growers, And Now, Ranchers

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quantify the amount of live green vegetation in a stretch of land. Plant leaves absorb most light in the visible spectrum, but reflect most near-infrared light. TerrAvion’s sensors measure the reflected light at different wavelengths over the terrain. From this data, it can calculate a ratio called the NDVI, (Normalized Difference Vegetation Index) and map it over the landscape. A high NDVI, which indicates thriving plant life, appears in blue on the map. A dropping NDVI can mean trouble.

“It’s almost like the heart rate in a person,” Morris says. “When that falls, you want to know why.”

TerrAvion also maps thermal infrared light from the landscape, which helps farmers evaluate a crop’s water use and the need for irrigation, Morris says.

The company has an open API so it can share data with partners such as Oakland, CA-based Fruition Sciences, a data analytics company specializing in viticulture—the art of growing grapes for wine-making.

Other partners are Novato, CA-based Ranch Systems, which provides software and sensors to monitor field conditions to help manage growing operations; and CHS Inc., a big Great Plains farmer cooperative based in Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota, which signed an agreement in August to offer TerrAvion’s services to its customers.

TerrAvion has also been working with PastureMap, which helps cattle ranchers use digital tools to manage their herds and rangeland. It has started to sign up some ranchers as customers, including the 1,800-acre beef cattle operation TomKat Ranch in Pescadero, CA. The aerial imaging company is hoping to attract more rangeland accounts.

Morris says ranchers have many of the same concerns as crop growers. Cattle ranchers are essentially farmers of grass, the food for their herds, he says. TerrAvion’s images and data help ranchers decide where to locate their cattle to avoid overgrazed areas, and perhaps also use the animals to control weeds in areas where the forage is rich.

“You can see all that from your kitchen table over coffee,” Morris says.

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Bernadette Tansey is Xconomy's San Francisco Editor. You can reach her at btansey@xconomy.com. Follow @Tansey_Xconomy

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