Figure 1 ERDAS Image Web Server and GIS integration for precision agriculture.

Rapidly Serving Imagery

For Precision Ag and County and State Governments

By Jason Sims
Norcross, Ga.

Across a broad range of industries and throughout city, county, state and national governments, understanding the changing Earth is a vital part of decision-making processes. As technology continues to improve, satellite imagery and aerial photography have the ability to capture higher resolution data, providing greater understanding of any area of interest.

In the past, this data was often too large to serve over the Internet with efficiency. However, maturing standards and improvements in web services, data compression, metadata standards, delivery and processing power are making this technology readily available. Below are three examples outlining how large volumes of imagery are being served efficiently to support precision agriculture, a county's appraisal office, and an entire state government dataset infrastructure.

Figure 2 Farmers working in precision agriculture use computers to integrate layers of data, including soil conditions and fertilizer needs for better prediction of crop yield.

Cultivating Imagery for Better Crops

Though the fact is sometimes not realized by the non-agricultural sector, farms are businesses too, and need to be as efficient as possible. Along with soaring oil prices, farmers have had to contend with soaring fertilizer prices – as well as fierce competition from overseas providers. Traditional farming methods are often unable to meet the growing demands and cost pressures, increasing the need for advanced technology to ensure optimum crop yield and quality.

To increase efficiency of production, as well as output yields, farmers in first-world countries have turned to high-tech precision agriculture. Individual farmers and corporations implementing precision agriculture techniques not only reap cost savings benefits, but also are better equipped to meet the needs of the populations they serve.

Agriculture data management is different from other types of data management in the vast volume of data that is regularly analyzed. For the farmer, the earth really is constantly changing. To make the best decisions, the most accurate and up-to-date data must be collected, often for the smallest segments of a specific area. Precision agriculture utilizes geospatial technologies, including global positioning (GPS), sensors, satellite and aerial images, and information management tools, to assess and understand variations.

Figure 3 Laptops are new essential tools for farmers in the field.

Collected information may be used to evaluate optimum sowing density, to estimate fertilizers and other input needs, and to predict more accurately crop yields. These techniques avoid applying inflexible practices to a crop, regardless of local soil and climate conditions, and may help to assess local situations of disease or lodging more effectively.

Maximizing the Power of Precision Agriculture

MapShots provides crop management solutions for growers, crop consultants, crop insurance agents, independent fertilizer and chemical retailers, and farm supply cooperatives throughout the United States of America. MapShots understands a variety of field operation needs, providing the framework documenting the full spectrum of user needs, from those without technology to those implementing the most advanced technology. MapShots customers include Southern States Cooperative, John Deere's AMS and Agri Services groups and DuPont Pioneer Hi-Bred. Specifically, MapShots provides those in the agriculture industry the tools necessary for better crop planning, recordkeeping and GIS/Precision Ag functionality.

MapShots ensures that field operations data are openly exchanged among all systems employed in agricultural production. Fertilizer has increased in price much the same way oil has in the past few years. For Southern States Cooperative, fertilizer dealers are scattered across the East Coast. MapShots' agriculture precision technology enables this company to manage these farmers' services remotely, with analytical understanding of the quantity yielded and sold to customers. See Figures 1-3.

Recently, MapShots began exploring options for expanding their services through web mapping. Previously, customers utilizing MapShot's EASi Suite GIS software package operated entirely in the desktop environment. Providing their customers with massive amounts of USDA imagery, MapShots was regularly updating and delivering this data to their customers by DVD. Their customers then copied the imagery onto their desktop, using EASi Suite to run the necessary processes and analytics on their areas of interest. By adding the option of a web mapping application, MapShots hoped to offer customers the added means to access and serve their imagery over the Internet, without abandoning desktop.

After exploring a number of web mapping applications, MapShots chose to implement ERDAS Image Web Server, a high-speed, specialized server application that efficiently distributes large volumes of geospatial image data. ERDAS Image Web Server solves the infrastructure congestion problems associated with deploying large amounts of image data, enabling users to access quickly the information they need.

Several of the other solutions MapShots considered had problematic and expensive licensing issues and restrictions. Many farmers produce books of their maps each year, and the restrictive licensing practices of other applications did not allow this. Other options available to MapShots also forced the use of the imagery they provide, which is of low quality and/or older for rural areas. The quality of imagery was paramount to MapShots customers. ERDAS Image Web Server allowed MapShots to control their environment and quality of content by hosting their own imagery. MapShots could then maintain and update this information for all their customers regularly.

An added benefit of ERDAS Image Web Server is that it does not require an SQL server database. ERDAS Image Web Server seamlessly connects to MapShots' existing business applications, and is interoperable with their GIS-based core product. With Web Mapping Services (WMS, the standard set by the Open Geospatial Consortium), ERDAS Image Web Server can call the GIS server, render maps in the GIS engine, and then serve these maps as part of a total image solution.

Ted Macy, President of MapShots, commented, "Our customers are eager to implement the technology that ERDAS Image Web Server provides. By offering such fast web serving capabilities for massive amounts of imagery, ERDAS Image Web Server has also opened doors to a number of new potential customers eager to further advance their investment in precision agriculture."

Ultimately, the speed and performance that ERDAS Image Web Server provides MapShots will enhance their customers' ability to access the most up-to-date imagery on demand. This faster access, combined with MapShots' EASi Suite software, ensures better precision agriculture, maximizing the potential of our Earth's resources and the ability to cultivate the land to meet the needs of our ever-increasing population.

Delivering a County's Geospatial Information

In Florida, the Lee County Property Appraiser's Office maintains a large amount of geospatial and business information. This includes the sale of ownership maps; property record cards and ownership data; sales data books; header strap identification books; copies of the tax roll; and locators for hotels, motels, apartment buildings, mobile home parks and condominiums. The office also provides property ownership verification for, and locates properties on, ownership maps. The Lee County Property Appraiser's assessment is used by various governmental agencies to set their tax levies.

Because of the vast amount of data maintained, businesses, organizations and individuals alike had diverse interests in Lee County's information. Developers, property owners, and other government agencies wanted unified access to cadastral data and aerial photography to provide additional, vital information to the cadastre.

The State of Florida's Department of Revenue also requires that mass reappraisals verify/establish market values for the tax roll. New construction and agricultural classified properties are also reviewed throughout the year. Lee County has over 500 gigabytes of raster imagery, including aerial photography coverage from 1998, 2001, 2002, 2005, 2006 and 2007. Delivering this imagery quickly to the large number of land stakeholders presented a performance problem for traditional GIS technologies.

Lee County continues to use its existing GIS infrastructure to serve the cadastral information. The imagery, however, is now served using ERDAS Image Web Server. This tandem approach allows the original GIS to perform as it was intended – serving vector information. ERDAS Image Web Server takes the load of serving 500 GB of image data.

The unified cadastral/aerial photography view presents a complete land information picture to the user. There is no time-consuming ‘application swapping,' as all necessary information is presented within a single application window. Combining aerial photography from different years into a single browser interface lets users efficiently determine areas that have changed over time. This solution has overcome slow performance, costly hard disk and processor requirements, and other infrastructure bottlenecks.

Serving Imagery Statewide: Oregon

State governments maintain a tremendous amount of geospatial information. Because these data are important to different departments and organizations associated with the government, it is necessary that they be easy to deliver and readily accessible.

Previously, in Oregon, users who needed to utilize statewide imagery coverage of any reasonable resolution needed to move data sets via CD/DVD, portable hard disks and FTP sites. As the state's imagery needs have continued to grow, the job of distributing and storing these data has become more challenging. Professionals in Oregon realized the need for a more efficient distribu

tion mechanism, enabling users to acquire digital datasets via a Web-based library/portal system.


Figure 4 State of Oregon’s Imagery Explorer digital library portal

In 2006, the Oregon Orthoimagery Framework Implementation Team (OFIT) directed the State of Oregon to contract with Oregon State University to create an imagery distribution/provisioning Web portal that could be integrated with the current Oregon Explorer Natural Resource digital library portal. This new portal provides datasets to federal, state and local agencies and to institutions of higher education, allowing users to select an area of interest and then extract/download the data in the appropriate format and projection to the client's site.

The portal also serves as a tool for ingesting and storing imagery files via a library, as well as providing a service to clients with applications that can access imagery via a WMS service. ERDAS Image Web Server stores terabytes of Oregon's imagery data that can be served to Web clients. See Figure 4. ERDAS Image Integration Framework provides the user interface and ERDAS Image Extraction Engine extracts image subsets. The user interface manages the services independently, so that data are displayed as soon as available.


With an increasing amount of high-resolution imagery available, non-traditional businesses and governments worldwide are recognizing the value that geospatial imagery provides. For organizations that maintain large amounts of imagery, there is often a need to deliver this information efficiently via the Internet. ERDAS Image Web Server's advanced technology overcomes the obstacles associated with serving large file types, quickly providing access to any organization's imagery.

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