Posted on May 07, 2019
When it comes to compensation, landowners should arm themselves with knowledge
By Andrea De Roo
“More tools in technology and data management should be better utilized to address landowners crop losses.”
Sophisticated technology and the collection of data is nothing new to the agriculture industry. There has been a wealth of platforms launched over the last decade to help growers collect, process, and use data generated by their farm. This technology has enabled growers to track trends in finances, production, and even weather patterns to reduce risk on the farm with better decision-making.
The data has also been used for compensation on insurance claims and helped agronomists with spray drift complaints. So why not use all this data to better understand the severity of disturbance and crop loss along pipelines for compensation?
Landowners and energy companies understand that crop productivity is greatly affected by disturbance from pipeline activity. But determining the number for fair compensation is difficult to negotiate when the value of the loss is unknown. Final offers are often based on assumptions that the land will return to full productivity within a certain timeline and that the crop loss is consistent year to year. This has not been the case for many landowners who continue to experience yield loss after the compensation payments have ceased, nor is the value of crop loss equal from year-to-year as crops and markets change.
I’ve come up with three questions landowners should ask themselves before sitting down at the negotiating table
1. What’s causing the differences in yield?
Despite best efforts to keep soil layers separate, disturbance with pipeline activity changes the soil profile that is critical to crop growth. The mixing of soils leads to loss of moisture, nutrients, and organic matter, while also bringing soluble salts to the surface. Geological data can measure the change in soil that influences yield loss. Electrical conductivity correlates strongly to soil texture differences and when paired with elevation or topography data, creates a strong picture of environmental change from pipeline disturbance.
2. Can differences be documented?
Imagery data adds a visual layer of crop health data over the season. A highly detailed data image can be collected by drone but is often more expensive and requires good weather for flying. Alternatively, satellite imagery is sufficient, but can depend on cloud cover or time of day the image is taken. Both of these options provide a Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) that indicates how ‘green’ your field is, or, what areas are more productive. NDVI imagery shows in-season differences between the low and high productivity of zones in the field and monitors the changes of these zones over the season. These images can provide a lot of information, but often require another level of production data or ‘ground truthing’ to evaluate if differences in NDVI values correlate to yield loss.
3. What are your numbers?
Production data is the ultimate layer that puts a dollar value on yield loss. A yield map off a combine shows what parts of the field produced better than others. Yield maps generally show a legend that assigns a yield value to each zone, but additional tools are available to isolate and measure averages of a specific area. This allows field averages to be compared to a pipeline right-of-way. It is key that the combine is calibrated, especially if there is more than one combine in the field to get accurate data. The picture below is raw yield data of wheat in tonnes/hectare. Even before processing, we can see areas that had considerably lower yields than others and the percentage each yield zone takes up in the field.
Collectively, this information creates a powerful dataset that could be used to bring actual numbers to the table when negotiating compensation contracts. Additionally, the ability to track the changes in data year after year can ensure fair settlement is provided as productivity improves or if it stays stagnant.
Moving forward, more tools in technology and data management should be better utilized to address landowners crop losses. Data needs to be collected and it needs to be good in order to provide any insight for either party. Are you collecting yours and are you using it?
Andrea De Roo has a BSA in agronomy and a M.Sc. in plant science. Additionally, she is a P.Ag. with the Saskatchewan Institute of Agrologists. Andrea farms with her family near Fairlight, Saskatchewan, and now also works with South Country Equipment as a Crop Intelligence Agronomist.
Published in PIPELINE OBSERVER SPRING 2019