How can Ross County share important GIS data with local farmers to help them achieve the highest yields possible? This is one of the questions Greg Rouse has pondered throughout his 22 years as GIS Coordinator at the Ross County Soil & Water Conservation District (Ross SWCD). One of the ways they do this is by locating buried drainage tiles using thermal, multispectral and RGB sensors, which helps farmers understand what is happening right underneath their feet. Working together with Dr. Barry Allred from the Columbus, Ohio Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and Ohio State University (OSU), Greg has recently also started using drones to capture aerial imagery for data analysis.
Still, the dilemma remained regarding how best to share all this data with farmers in a user-friendly, practical way? How can we share layered maps of agricultural subsurface drainage systems while maintaining geospatial accuracy and making it accessible to farmers who are not trained GIS software users? The answer turned out to be GeoPDF.
There are many corn, soybean, and wheat farmers who call Ross County home. The Ross SWCD has been providing leadership and education to farmers for the stewardship of its natural resources since 1947. Ross County farmers work on drained farmland, which means that subsurface drainage systems are in place to keep the soil from getting too wet. Having too much water in the soil would have adverse effects on their crops, lowering their yield or even destroying it entirely. Where it was once initially possible to see where the systems were installed, plowing of the topsoil eventually makes this impossible. Having often been installed 40+ years ago, maps indicating where the original drainage systems lay are often no longer available either. This can be detrimental to the farmers who require accurate maps of the drainage systems to plan crop placement, to retrofit existing systems, and to efficiently repair damaged portions of the tile network.
However, when providing these much-needed maps to Ross County farmers, Greg noticed that the maps he produced were too crowded to easily identify drainage tile locations. Moreover, the need for GIS software/skills to locate data points limited the number of farmers that could use his maps. Greg looked for a solution enabling him to share state-of-the-art maps that could instantly be used in the field without cluttering up the map view.
“I was instantly excited to use GeoPDF, it is a perfect fit for what I was looking for.”
– Greg Rouse, GIS Coordinator, Ross County, Ohio
By using aerial imagery obtained by drones and producing GeoPDF maps from it, Greg can provide farmers with intuitive maps that tell them everything they need to know about the subsurface drainage tile locations on their farmland. Greg recently started using a DJI RTK Phantom 4 which is used to map new installations of subsurface drainage of Ross County farms with extremely high accuracy.
GeoPDF makes it possible for Greg to provide farmers with data-rich, georeferenced maps that they can instantly use without GIS software. By adding a Digital Elevation Model (DEM) to his GeoPDF maps and creating contours that indicate height differential, Greg gives farmers an additional tool in identifying locations. With GeoPDF Toolbar, farmers can effortlessly toggle layers on and off, depending on their exact needs. Each layer adds new information, but the intuitive nature remains. The familiar user interface helps farmers with little technical understanding to not only visualize data points but use them to literally guide work in the fields. All they need is a GeoPDF map and a Bluetooth-connected GPS unit.
Because GeoPDFs are simply PDFs at their core, it is extremely easy for farmers to use Greg’s maps with universally available free software, such as Adobe Reader (R) and GeoPDF Toolbar. By knowing the exact location of their drainage tiles, Ross County farmers are now able to make informed decisions concerning replacing old, installing new, or repairing existing tiles. In addition, farmers can save a tremendous amount of time and money with accurate subsurface maps while operating heavy machinery to adjust their drainage systems. Together, Ross County’s GIS team and the local farming community have worked together to produce important economic and environmental benefits. GeoPDF simply helped them bridge the gap from GIS experts to non-GIS end users, so they could put their maps to work.