Sustainable intensification of arable agriculture : The role of Earth Observation in quantifying the agricultural landscape

Hunt, Merryn and Blackburn, George and Rowland, Clare S. (2021) Sustainable intensification of arable agriculture : The role of Earth Observation in quantifying the agricultural landscape. PhD thesis, Lancaster University.

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By 2050, global food production must increase by 70% to meet the demands of a growing population with shifting food consumption patterns. Sustainable intensification has been suggested as a possible mechanism to meet this demand without significant detrimental impact to the environment. Appropriate monitoring techniques are required to ensure that attempts to sustainably intensify arable agriculture are successful. Current assessments rely on datasets with limited spatial and temporal resolution and coverage such as field data and farm surveys. Earth Observation (EO) data overcome limitations of resolution and coverage, and have the potential to make a significant contribution to sustainable intensification assessments. Despite the variety of established EO-based methods to assess multiple indicators of agricultural intensity (e.g. yield) and environmental quality (e.g. vegetation and ecosystem health), to date no one has attempted to combine these methods to provide an assessment of sustainable intensification. The aim of this thesis, therefore, is to demonstrate the feasibility of using EO to assess the sustainability of agricultural intensification. This is achieved by constructing two novel EO-based indicators of agricultural intensity and environmental quality, namely wheat yield and farmland bird richness. By combining these indicators, a novel performance feature space is created that can be used to assess the relative performance of arable areas. This thesis demonstrates that integrating EO data with in situ data allows assessments of agricultural performance to be made across broad spatial scales unobtainable with field data alone. This feature space can provide an assessment of the relative performance of individual arable areas, providing valuable information to identify best management practices in different areas and inform future management and policy decisions. The demonstration of this agricultural performance assessment method represents an important first step in the creation of an operational EO-based monitoring system to assess sustainable intensification, ensuring we are able to meet future food demands in an environmentally sustainable way.

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Thesis (PhD)
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11 May 2021 15:55
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09 Mar 2024 00:03