Upper Midwest Aerospace Consortium Evaluates DigitalGlobe Products to Mitigate Crop Disease

Imagery Could Help Assess the Health of Sugar Beet Crops to Manage Costly Rhizomania Damage

LONGMONT, Colo., October 25, 2004 – DigitalGlobe® announces 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.

According to Dr. Santhosh Seelan, lead researcher with UMAC, “The availability of affordable imagery from DigitalGlobe’s QuickBird satellite  has broadened the use of imaging technology for precision farming, and is increasingly being explored as a complementary tool to lower resolution satellite imagery, aerial photography, and GIS and GPS techniques to help improve overall crop yield and quality.”

Seelan surmises that the QuickBird satellite – which can “revisit” areas to acquire imagery of the same area every 3.5 to 5 days – has already demonstrated effectiveness in detecting changing crop conditions in a timely manner. Seelan stresses that in order to plant Rhizomania-resistant varieties in the next crop rotation and to plan seed procurement accordingly, identification and mapping of Rhizomania-affected fields in the current cycle is key.

“The resistant varieties available today are less productive compared to the conventional varieties, but yield much more than the Rhizomania-infected crops do. Therefore it is essential to precisely identify the affected fields and plant resistant varieties selectively. Here is where remote sensing can play a very useful role, possibly saving the industry millions of dollars,” he says.

Rhizomania is considered to be one of the most devastating diseases to ever affect sugar beet crops, and is expected to find its way into all sugar beet growing regions of the U.S. The Red River Valley in North Dakota and Minnesota currently accounts for 40 percent of the country’s sugar beet production.

In 2002 the American Crystal Sugar Company (ACSC), a farmer owned co-operative in the Red River Valley, had over 120,000 acres or 25 percent of its sugar beet growing areas affected by Rhizomania. Since losses can reach $285.00 an acre in fields affected by Rhizomania, ACSC was acutely interested in assessing the possibility of future damage and evaluating whether a transition to a new crop — and then to Rhizomania-tolerant varieties of sugar beets — would better serve the co-operative in years to come.

According to Dr. Seelan, “Satellite imagery could become an invaluable tool for distinguishing between other symptoms of distress — and the far more debilitating outbreaks of Rhizomania. Making this distinction could allow growers to better understand how Rhizomania can spread and plan for effective sugar beet planting in the future. The use of satellite imagery could be key to the ongoing understanding of this costly crop disease.”

About UMAC
The goal of the Upper Midwest Aerospace Consortium (UMAC) is to provide information about the environment that enables people to make decisions improving their economic competitiveness, quality of life and educational preparedness. The primary source of the information is data acquired by satellites and aircraft. Beneficiaries of the information include farmers practicing precision agriculture, ranchers seeking optimum grazing capacities, foresters engaged in sustainable forestry, educators teaching responsible stewardship, and students of earth system science. More information about UMAC can be found at www.umac.org.

About DigitalGlobe
DigitalGlobe is the clear leader in the global commercial Earth imagery and geospatial information market. The company’s technical superiority and innovation, unparalleled commitment to customer service, extensive business partner network and open systems philosophy make DigitalGlobe the preferred supplier of satellite and aerial imagery and value-added products. In 2001, DigitalGlobe launched what remains the world’s highest resolution commercial satellite today, QuickBird. The company will launch its next-generation WorldView system no later than 2006. QuickBird has collected and stored in its ImageLibrary hundreds of thousands of Earth image scenes covering over a hundred million square kilometers, and collects an additional one million square kilometers each week. These new and historical images are essential for customers who map and plan for change in our world. DigitalGlobe is based in Longmont, Colo., USA. For more information visit www.digitalglobe.com.