Amazing swath

FARGO, N.D. - It may not be the worst ever, but the July 15 storm that ripped eastern North Dakota may be the most costly because it could involve 700,000 acres of crops that have a bigger value than ever before.

FARGO, N.D. - It may not be the worst ever, but the July 15 storm that ripped eastern North Dakota may be the most costly because it could involve 700,000 acres of crops that have a bigger value than ever before.

Thanks to satellite imagery provided by Agri ImaGIS Technologies based in Fargo and Maddock, N.D., the actual footprint of the storm becomes clear. The images captured July 19 from about 400 miles in space show the damage as a whitish streak of vegetation loss.

Lanny Faleide, president of Agri ImaGIS, likens it to a "lightning bolt" shape.

"We can see the damage right away because the vegetation dies almost immediately and the 'signature' will show it," Faleide says.

Agricultural applications for satellite imagery have been around since the early 1970s, but better images came along the mid-1980s. Agri ImaGIS started operations in 1994 and incorporated in 1996.


Began with beets

It started analyzing imagery of sugar beet fields for American Crystal Sugar Co. to provide growers with data to enable variable-rate application of fertilizers and other crop imputs.

From the beginning, Agri ImaGIS "precision" ag imagery on a field-by-field basis, analyzing productivity, much like a yield monitor map works on a combine.

"We take data into the system and analyze it for productivity," he says.

They call it "vegetation biomass signature," which is done through near-infrared wavelengths.

Since 1998, farmers have been able to go onto the system right from the field and soil-test based on patterns and can apply different rates of chemicals or fertilizers based on what they discover. Now, it's done through the Web.

"We use as our base imagery the Landsat, or 30-meter resolution. But we can get satellite imagery down to 2.5 meters," Faleide says.

The company can acquire imagery from 10 different satellites, with another one or two satellites added every year. Airplane imagery is available on special order and brings the information down to 1 meter and has better accuracy, although it's more expensive.


Crop insuranceA couple of years ago, Agri ImaGIS broke into the field of crop insurance analysis. It deals with three to four of the top five or six crop insurance companies.

"We send this map of the whole hail storm, for example, to different hail and crop insurance companies to see if they want to use it," Faleide says. "A few companies are consistent users."

Based on an overview, the insurance company officials decide whether they want to go to the company's "Satshot Claim Center" to particular images or services down to a field-by-field level. If the company doesn't have a heavy concentration of claims in the area of a storm, however, it might pass it up.

Faleide says the overview image shows the green crops as green, but the dead crops as white - a fairly accurate color, without much enhancement.

Confirming damageCompanies typically don't order imagery in the center of the damage areas that take out 100 percent of a crop, but more on the fringes. There is no substitute for boots on the ground, however. That's when it's possible to see whether a "standing" crop has been decapitated by a storm.

"We can show the adjuster that they can do twice as many fields as they normally would," Faleide says.

Adjusters confirm damage within four to eight "zones" within a field. Different companies will handle the indemnities differently, which can shift loss significantly between the farmer and the company.

If the company has submitted a claim the day after a hail storm and Agri ImaGIS doesn't have the imagery yet, it'll see where claims have been submitted and can go ahead and order an image for that specific area.


Insurance companies tend to look most closely at the fringe areas of the storm, or at suspected fraudulent claims, especially in the multiperil crop insurance sector. Much of that work occurs in the winter, when audits can indicate so-called "moved production" or incorrect adjusting.

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