March 29, 2021

Company using satellites to improve pasture grazing

Company using satellites to improve pasture grazing

Organic Valley, an organic food brand and the largest farmer’s-owned independent cooperative of organic farmers based in Wisconsin, recently launched a pilot program using satellite photography to measure pasture health on its dairy farms. The satellites will provide real-time feedback every week to support dairy herd nutrition, protect and improve pastures, and benefit the environment. This innovation is one of the many ways farmers and ranchers are helping to make a positive impact on climate change.

Organic Valley farmers divide their continuing pastures into smaller sections called paddocks and move their herds regularly between them based on the maturity and quality of forage available. “Rotational grazing requires farmers to measure the forage in each paddock on a regular basis, a manual and time-intensive practice,” said Wade Miller, Organic Valley senior director of farm resources. “Satellite photos measure the forage in each paddock remotely, greatly easing the farmer’s labor and time burden. Based on university trials, we expect our farmers will be able to capture at least a 20% increase in pasture utilization through the use of this technology.”

This regenerative farming practice makes Organic Valley unique. Their cows spend more time grazing outside than 95% of the dairy cows in the United States. Some of the benefits of this practice include improved pasture and soil health, greater biodiversity, improved water quality, and resource conservation, pastures that pull carbon out of the air and store it in the soil and plant biomass, helping counteract climate change and happier and healthier cows that spend their days with other cattle.

In 2019, the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Northeast Climate Hub released a fact sheet about the benefits of grazing to improve climate resilience. The document includes several benefits such as fewer herd health problems, healthier food products, low-stress livestock management, and reduction of runoff and soil erosion. Innovations such as the satellites used by Organic Valley are a key way to improve the environment while also improving the livestock and agriculture industry.