DigitalGlobe has announced that the Upper Midwest Aerosopace Consortium (UMAC), a program of the University of North Dakota, is exploring high-resolution QuickBird satellite images for researching the impact of the Rhizomania disease on sugar beet crops. UMAC research has already shown the potential of high-resolution satellite imagery to help the two billion dollar sugar beet industry of the North Dakota Red River Valley better understand the spread of the devastating disease, and could help give growers a better understanding of when it is best to plant new varieties of sugar beets.
Rhizomania is not often visible to the naked eye, and can be easily confused with other crop deficiencies such as water and nitrogen stress. QuickBird’s 8-foot resolution multispectral images display sensitivities to chlorophyll and moisture content in plant leaves. Using QuickBird-based digital image maps in conjunction with a GPS receiver, farmers and crop consultants without any background or knowledge in satellite imaging or digital mapping can locate anomalous crop conditions, which could be due to Rhizomania. Once the farmer locates the affected crops, he or she can determine which fields should be replaced with Rhizomania-resistant varieties during the next growing cycle — or where measures should be implemented to minimize spreading of the disease.