How Small Satellite Technology Can Impact Agriculture

Aug 10, 2020

Cattle grazing on public lands near Price, Utah.
Credit U.S. Bureau of Land Management

Whether or not you know much about small satellites, it’s likely you’ve benefited from one today. For instance—if you used a navigation app to get where you needed to go.

"That's one of those things that most people use day-to-day and don't realize that they're relying on a space based platform, you know, to get to the grocery store and avoid traffic, for example," said Katherine Monson, the head of the U.S. branch of Kongsberg Satellite Services, KSAT.

Satellites impact our lives significantly Monson said, and many of these developments have happened in the past decade.

“You know, companies like Garmin can create the smartwatch that tells me how fast I run or actually better said how slowly I run," Monson said.

Satellites are especially helpful for observing difficult to reach places on earth, like the ocean or remote back country areas. It’s because of this that people like Matthew Garcia, an assistant agriculture professor at Utah State University, use small satellite technology to track livestock.

“We've been using GPS technology in Utah for years on cattle. What we wanted to see was kind of their grazing patterns, how they were utilizing the land, just their behavior on some of those big open range lands,” said Garcia.

Garcia’s current research tags bulls and in real time tracks the animal's behavior through the breeding season. He wants to find out what behaviors are the most successful, which would help ranchers select bulls and optimize breeding practices.

Another way Garcia and other researchers use satellite imagery is to monitor rangeland health. This helps ranchers optimize foraging practices and provides information about how public lands are used for agriculture.

“This information will also allow for better management of multiple use a lot of times,” Garcia said. “That we can have the cattle and you can still have recreation and this other aspect.”