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Rhizomania Battle Goes High Tech With Imagery

By | November 1, 2004

      Longmont, Colo.-based Digital-Globe is teaming with the Upper Midwest Aerosopace Consortium (UMAC) at the University of North Dakota to explore using high-resolution QuickBird satellite images to research the impact of Rhizomania disease on sugar beet crops. UMAC research has shown the potential of high-resolution satellite imagery to help the $2 billion sugar beet industry of the North Dakota Red River Valley better track the spread of the devastating disease. The intent is to let growers know when to plant new varieties of sugar beets that are resistant to the disease.

      Rhizomania is expected spread to all sugar beet-growing regions of the United States. 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 more than 120,000 acres, or 25 percent of its sugar beet growing areas, affected by Rhizomania. Because losses can reach $285 an acre in fields affected by the disease, ACSC turned to satellite imagery to forecast the possibility of future damage and when to transition to a new crop.

      The 8-ft.-resolution, multispectral images of QuickBird display sensitivities to chlorophyll and moisture content in plant leaves. Farmers can use digital image maps in conjunction with a GPS receiver to locate anomalous crop conditions that could be due to dreaded Rhizomania. The imagery is especially helpful because Rhizomania often is not visible to the naked eye, and it can be confused with other crop deficiencies.

      Once a farmer identifies diseased crops, he or she can determine which fields should be replaced with Rhizomania-resistant varieties during the next growing cycle. The farmer also can consider other remedies.

      The resistant varieties available today are less productive compared to the conventional varieties, but they yield much more than Rhizomania-infected crops. For that reason, it is essential to precisely identify the affected fields and plant resistant varieties when needed.

      Dr. Santhosh Seelan, lead researcher with UMAC, told Satellite News the use of satellite imagery to assess crop damage has been in vogue for a while but it only now is focusing on the sugar beet industry’s plight. “Once damage is noticed, and if the information is made available to the farmer in near real time, it is possible to take measures to avoid further damage or to treat the damage where possible,” Dr. Seelan said.

      (Dr. Santhosh K. Seelan, UMAC, 701/777 2355; Chuck Herring, DigitalGlobe, 303//684-4020)

      DigitalGlobe At A Glance

      Headquarters: 1601 Dry Creek Drive, Suite 260, Longmont, CO 80503

      Founded: 1992

      Web site:

      Contact: Chuck Herring, Director, Marketing Communications, 303/684-4020,

      Vital Statistics:

      DigitalGlobe became the first company to the first company to receive a high-resolution commercial remote sensing license from the U.S. Government under the Land Remote Sensing Policy Act in 1992. DigitalGlobe products provide imagery products for applications that include agriculture, civil government,environmental and natural resources, infrastructure, visual simulation, exploration and intelligence. The company launched what it says is the world’s highest-resolution commercial satellite, QuickBird, in October 2001. QuickBird has collected and stored hundreds of thousands of Earth images covering more than 100 million square kilometers.

      Strategic Focus:

      The company plans to put a next-generation satellite, WorldView, into orbit no later than 2006.

      Source: DigitalGlobe

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