In early June 2016, Tom McKinnon, Agribotix founder and CTO, joined a team of biologists and GIS experts to survey rangeland in southern Colorado. As part of their mission to protect nature for future generations, The Nature Conservancy has an ongoing sustainable grazing initiative. Many groups, such as the Savory Institute and others, have shown that cattle are a critical component to maintaining healthy grassland. However, the manner in which cattle are managed is critical. And different theories abound on the best grazing techniques.
To collect data on the impact of grazing practices, scientists from the Conservancy identified over a dozen grazing fields at two ranches they manage in southern Colorado: JE Canyon Ranch and BX Ranch. The selected fields were paired to have similar soil types and microclimate, but different ranching methods.
While Conservancy scientist made ground surveys of the type and quantity of grasses, Dr. McKinnon flew the Agribotix Agrion drone over the fields to collect visible and near-infrared imagery. The GPS coordinates of the ground-truthed sections were carefully recorded for comparison with the georeferenced drone imagery. In all, Agribotix surveyed over 1500 acres of rangeland. One hypothesis of the field test is that high-resolution aerial data can be used to assess the health of rangeland without doing expensive and time-consuming ground truthing on each field. The data are still being analyzed, but the early results are encouraging.