Precision FarmingIncrease effi­ciency with satel­lite tech­nology

The govern­ment is increas­ingly restricting the use of agri­cul­tural inputs. In addi­tion, prices have risen to unimag­ined heights. Many farmers are wondering how to use fertilisers, seeds, growth regu­la­tors and crop protec­tion chem­i­cals more effi­ciently. One possible answer is to imple­ment preci­sion farming: Those who work with appli­ca­tion maps based on satel­lite images can achieve more uniform yields.

Eric Loth­mann managed to reduce fertiliser use by an average of 5% this year when growing rape­seed, wheat, barley, and sugar beet. As we speak, the harvest season is just begin­ning. But when it comes to barley, it is already clear that the crop has not suffered because of reduced inputs, with more even yields and quality seen across the fields. This Rhine farmer owes his success not only to his fertile soil, but also to the site-specific cultivation methods which he started using this year (2022) for the first time.

Working with satel­lite data-based appli­ca­tion maps has already changed Mr Lothmann’s way of thinking: He used to differ­en­tiate manage­ment according to the field, now he adjusts fertiliser appli­ca­tions within each field based on zones calcu­lated by the Solorrow soft­ware from satel­lite images. Soils on his 400ha arable farm are of high quality and pretty consis­tent – condi­tions that initially do not call for site-specific fertil­i­sa­tion. Never­the­less, the farm manager wanted to make fertiliser use even more effi­cient with the help of satel­lite tech­nology. In view of the increas­ingly strict legis­la­tion on farm inputs, effi­ciency has also become an urgent issue. “We need to get the maximum yield from what we are still allowed to use,” explains Mr Loth­mann.

Satel­lite tech­nology is a change that you shouldn’t ignore if you want to lead your oper­a­tion into the future.

Eric Loth­mann

Instead of deciding whether he should fertilise the wheat again based on intu­ition, satel­lite data and gross margin calcu­la­tions now assist in making a rational deci­sion. This is even more impor­tant as input costs have risen dras­ti­cally in recent months. For example, Mr Loth­mann increased fertiliser rates in areas with lower, though still very high, yield poten­tial, while reducing rates in the high-yield zones. “I’m impressed with every­thing that’s now possible. We’ve been working on the digi­ti­sa­tion of the farm for 10 years – and the bene­fits are really becoming clear now.”

Eric Loth­mann manages a 400 ha arable farm.

Site-specific mineral fertil­izer appli­ca­tion on Eric Lothmann's farm.

New oppor­tu­ni­ties

On the North Sea coast of Lower Saxony, contractor Lars Lange is pursuing a completely different goal when util­ising satel­lite tech­nology: He uses the data from BASF’s xarvio FIELD MANAGER to obtain more uniform maize crops by changing seed rates in vari­able areas. The contractor Petra Lange has been offering agri­cul­tural services in the Cuxhaven hinter­land for over 30 years. In 2020, two of his customers suggested that he start using the new tech­nology. This year he tilled 200ha for them using seed appli­ca­tion maps. “I was attracted by the chal­lenge of this new tech­nology,” recalls Mr Lange. Thanks to the obtained data, his customers now have a better under­standing about their in-field zones.

You shouldn’t be afraid of tech­nology. It’s not always easy to under­stand, but that’s what makes it inter­esting.

Lars Lange

Contractor Lars Lange uses xarvio FIELD MANAGER in conjunc­tion with the John Deere Oper­a­tions Center to create site-specific maize seeding maps.

Other farmers use the data not only to fine-tune their seed and fertiliser appli­ca­tions to soil condi­tions in the field, but also to apply growth regu­la­tors, fungi­cides, and other crop protec­tion chem­i­cals. Aaron Borcherding, who advises farmers in Sülfeld (Schleswig-Holstein) for the machinery dealer LVD Bernard Krone, finds the latter to be of little use. The reason: The liquid-spray crop protec­tion chem­i­cals fulfil different tasks. When using a Vari­able Rate of Appli­ca­tion (VRA) map for crop protec­tion prod­ucts, it is impor­tant to recon­cile the indi­vidual agents, contained in the spray mixture, with their respec­tive objec­tives in the field. The plant protec­tion chem­i­cals should there­fore be applied indi­vid­u­ally.

Never­the­less, the xarvio FIELD MANAGER also considers the mixing ratios in the tank when it comes to crop protec­tion appli­ca­tions. According to BASF field trials with winter wheat (2019-2021), working with xarvio VRA cards saves an average of 15% in fungi­cide and growth regu­lator use, while increasing sales by €27/ha (£24).

Tech­nology does not replace people

Satel­lite images form the basis for creating appli­ca­tion maps. Their record­ings provide infor­ma­tion about the biomass growth in an area. Soft­ware like Solorrow, MyDat­a­Plant and xarvio FIELD MANAGER blends the growth data from several years and uses this to calcu­late the average yield poten­tial of the field, regard­less of the crop. As a result, irreg­ular devi­a­tions like wildlife damage or fungal diseases cannot affect the overall picture, offering an advan­tage over sensor tech­nology, which gener­ates data directly in the field which some­times leads to predicting poorer average yield poten­tial due to a local fungal disease. The satel­lite maps also score better with complete field coverage. On the other hand, when the skies are cloudy there are some­times no new images avail­able for weeks, and some­times cloud shadows lead the algo­rithms to make incor­rect assess­ments.

Oper­ator termi­nals in the tractor cab during vari­able rate maize seeding.

Tractor-planter combi­na­tion ready for vari­able rate maize seeding.

Finally, farmers can create field specific VRA maps from the yield poten­tial maps. Based on this input they need to decide on the number of zones as well as the appli­ca­tion rates for seeds, fertilisers, crop protec­tion chem­i­cals and growth regu­la­tors within these zones. But satel­lite tech­nology cannot replace the farmer’s expe­ri­ence. It does not inter­pret the data for them. “You still know your areas better than the system,” empha­sises Mr Loth­mann.

For the same reason, agri­cul­tural contractor Mr Lange works with his customers to deter­mine how the knowl­edge gained from the data analysis is to be used: Should the less produc­tive zones be seeded more densely or thinly? Depending on the situ­a­tion, both approaches may be plau­sible. “Satel­lite tech­nology only provides the infor­ma­tion basis for better exploiting the poten­tial of an area,” he clar­i­fies.

Vari­able rate maize seeding ...

... at a customer of Lars Lange.

Achieve more uniform yields with effi­cient resource use

When the maps are ready, Messrs Lange and Loth­mann check them one last time and then send them directly to the tractor or the MyJohn­Deere Oper­a­tions Centre. Alter­na­tively, the data can be trans­ferred to the terminal using a USB stick. The machine then carries out the instruc­tions inde­pen­dently during the field­work, and records the applied quan­ti­ties at the same time, in order to enable a later target/actual compar­ison in the soft­ware. If the field and settings are well co-ordi­nated, inputs can be used more effi­ciently and yields evened out.

Aaron Borcherding advises farmers as a preci­sion farming and AMS specialist for agri­cul­tural machinery dealer LVD Bern­hard Krone.

This is where preci­sion farming and AMS specialist and part-time farmer Aaron Borcherding sees the greatest poten­tial for satel­lite tech­nology. He has delved deeply into the tech­nology to advise his customers on preci­sion farming issues. Given the clarity of the web appli­ca­tion and the German-speaking customer service with 24/7 tele­phone support, Mr Borcherding recom­mends the MyDat­a­Plant soft­ware to his customers.

If you cannot handle the new tech­nology, you’re better off with using your gut feeling.

Aaron Borcherding

Many younger customers and larger compa­nies are inter­ested in the new tech­nology. But still, only a few dare to take the first step. Those who do aren’t only looking to keep track of every field with the help of tech­nology, even on very large farms. They’re also hoping to save on resources. Some soft­ware providers promise up to 10% more yield with 10% cost savings. Mr Borcherding does not go along with that. “I don’t save on any fertiliser, I simply distribute it more effi­ciently,” he says with certainty. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not all about further increasing yields in the high-yielding country of Germany, but rather about stabil­ising yields over the years. Greater plan­ning secu­rity and more effi­cient cost distri­b­u­tion are the true advan­tages of satel­lite tech­nology.

At the same time, it should by no means be labelled exclu­sively as a tool for large-scale farming. Mr Lothmann’s expe­ri­ence shows that it can also be worth­while for smaller family busi­nesses, although financing here is much more diffi­cult. There­fore, for the past 10 years he has been expanding the tech­no­log­ical stan­dard of his machinery fleet, step by step. “Digi­ti­sa­tion is a process that you have to grow into, and it requires disci­pline,” he states. An invest­ment plan helped him to stay on track.

The right soft­ware

On his smart­phone, Eric Loth­mann can directly display the vari­able fertil­izer map for a field.

In prin­ciple, anyone who has an ISOBUS and Section Control-capable tractor can start working with satel­lite tech­nology. The Solorrow soft­ware is even an option for farmers who do not have these basic tech­nical require­ments and recom­mends itself with an easy-to-use inter­face. However, this is not possible without commit­ment and interest. “If you cannot handle the new tech­nology, you’re better off with using your gut feeling,” empha­sises Mr Borcherding.

All programs work with satel­lite images that are freely avail­able on the internet. The software’s task is to prepare these images in such a way that the infor­ma­tion derived from them can be put into prac­tice by the user.

Which soft­ware is best depending on indi­vidual needs and existing tech­nology. Ulti­mately, it is also a matter of taste. In addi­tion to Solorrow, MyDat­a­Plant and the Xarvio Field Manager, there are many other programs avail­able. What all these programs have in common, however, is that they are compat­ible with the John Deere Oper­a­tions Centre. Paying atten­tion to compat­ible file formats from the outset can save a lot of frus­tra­tion. In fact, data format­ting errors and errors when setting up the tractor termi­nals are among the most common prob­lems that Mr Borcherding’s customers face.

Pioneering tech­nology

The display of prescrip­tion maps also works on Lars Lange’s tablet.

Despite all the tech­nology and digi­ti­sa­tion, the farmer still has to take care of one thing: The deci­sion on how to handle the data. Preci­sion farming is just a support; it makes stock manage­ment easier and the crop more homo­ge­neous. Working with tech­nology is demanding and farmers should never rely on it blindly. It does not guar­antee that all data is correct, nor can it replace the farmer’s own knowl­edge.

Compared to other possi­bil­i­ties of preci­sion farming, the satel­lite-supported appli­ca­tion maps offer several advan­tages: They are rela­tively inex­pen­sive, cover the entire field, enable more effi­cient use of oper­ating resources, and reduce error rates in the assess­ment of yield poten­tial. Mr Loth­mann sees tech­nology as a great oppor­tu­nity for agri­cul­ture. “This is a change that you shouldn’t ignore if you want to lead your oper­a­tion into the future,” he states. His colleague Mr Lange is no less enthu­si­astic – the feeling of sitting at the machine and seeing that it actu­ally works is phenom­enal.

Anyone wanting to get into tech­nology is advised to start small and early, and to not get discour­aged if some­thing doesn’t work. At the begin­ning, working with the satel­lite data requires a lot of time, disci­pline and invest­ment into suit­able machinery, if such doesn’t already exist. “You don’t go digital with a snap of your fingers,” says Mr Loth­mann. However, in view of ever stricter restric­tions on fertiliser use and rising input costs, the efforts could soon pay off.

Soft­ware solu­tions at a glance


The soft­ware can be used to create app and web-based VRA maps for sowing, fertil­izing, crop protec­tion and growth control. Xarvio offers a choice of Basic, Pro and Premium pack­ages, with the basic version being generous – free for one year and use on two fields. After that, the subscrip­tion is always for just one year and ends auto­mat­i­cally. The costs are calcu­lated according to the total surface area and the desired func­tions.

Xarvio’s yield poten­tial maps are based on satel­lite images from the past 15 years. A newly devel­oped func­tion auto­mat­i­cally inte­grates distance require­ments into the appli­ca­tion maps. In addi­tion, the soft­ware makes it possible to deter­mine the best time window for fertil­iza­tion using growth stage models. Of the programs presented here, Xarvio is the only one that also offers site-specific crop protec­tion in the premium version.


Like Xarvio, this soft­ware from the German provider Kleff­mann Digital runs on both mobile devices and computers. Because of the clarity of the web appli­ca­tion and the German-speaking customer service with 24/7 tele­phone support Borcherding recom­mends MyDat­a­Plant to his customers. The provider lets customers choose from three pack­ages: sowing, fertil­iza­tion and crop protec­tion (only for the use of growth regu­la­tors). When the free 14-day trial for up to five fields has expired, you can take out a subscrip­tion for one year, priced according to the number of pack­ages you want and the size of the field.

A special option is the multi-layer tool, which makes it possible to blend data from a wide variety of formats, and incor­po­rate them into the appli­ca­tion maps, indi­vid­u­ally weighted – for example soil samples, drone over-flights or yield data.


Also from Germany comes Solorrow, solely an app, from the provider of the same name which won the Hessian Founder’s Prize 2019 for this program in 2019. Loth­mann chose this soft­ware because it is easy to use and under­stand, even for begin­ners. It’s also inex­pen­sive – the costs are scaled according to the total area. Like the other soft­ware providers, Solorrow also offers a trial version: three fields are free of charge. A special feature is the auto­matic field boundary detec­tion, which saves you from having to actively enter the area data. For farmers without an ISOBUS or Shape-capable tractor, Solorrow offers the driving mode feature. This makes it possible to keep track of the zones and appli­ca­tion quan­ti­ties on a tablet, during actual field work. This also makes it possible to take zone-specific soil samples, and so get to the bottom of the reasons for produc­tivity differ­ences in the field.

For its yield poten­tial maps, the soft­ware uses satel­lite images from the past five years and, if desired, suggests a dosage based on the differ­ences in the field zones. If you so wish, you can also control the dosage manu­ally. As always, the user decides on the appli­ca­tion strategy: high appli­ca­tion rates in good zones and low rates in bad ones, or vice versa.