From its base in Amsterdam, Land Life Company works to restore lands degraded by natural or human activities such as wildfire, desertification, agriculture and urbanization. Since its founding in 2013, Land Life has planted nearly 1.3 million trees on five continents and aims to restore two billion hectares of damaged terrain. To do so, Land Life is using a data-driven approach fueled by detailed information on how its young trees survive and grow.
It’s difficult to plant trees successfully on a large scale—and Land Life plants trees by the thousands. Logistics are complex and costs for sapling trees, supplies, labor and equipment add up quickly. To optimize the cost-to-benefit ratio, Land Life needs to achieve a high rate of success for the trees it plants; the young trees need to grow and remain healthy in order to produce the long-term benefits.
Standing in a future forest, a Land Life technician inspects newly planted trees. The green tubes protect and support the seedlings. Photo courtesy of Land Life Company.
To assess performance, Land Life monitors new trees through periodic visits to measure parameters such as height and health. Combined with information on the tree species, location, soils and environmental conditions, the data supports informed decisions in planning the next round of planting and enables Land Life to adjust variables such as soil amendments and watering approaches.
Land Life Data Scientist Tom Janmaat said that monitoring tree performance is a labor-intensive process; the company constantly works to improve productivity in its monitoring efforts including developing an in-house smartphone app. The app guides users through the capture of information on a tree’s species, height and health. In order for the information to be useful, field teams must be sure they visit the same tree every time. When dealing with thousands of nearly-identical trees spaced three meters apart, it’s not a simple task.
For years, Land Life attached paper tags with QR codes to trees selected for monitoring. The codes ensured identification of specific trees but monitoring personnel needed to carry separate QR readers and crawl on the ground to reach and scan the tag. Land Life knew that GNSS could improve the process, but were concerned about the cost and complexity of high-accuracy GNSS.
A Land Life technician uses a QR code reader to identify a tree. By replacing the QR codes with accurate GNSS positioning, Land Life produced a four-fold increase in monitoring productivity. Photo courtesy of Land Life Company.
Land Life solved the problem by using the Trimble R1 GNSS receiver, which enabled them to blend accurate positioning into their existing workflows and Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) approach to locating and monitoring the trees. With the position data from the R1 in their familiar apps, workers could use existing workflows and smartphones; they needed very little training on the new device.
A Land Life technician holds a smartphone and the Trimble R1 GNSS receiver while entering data. The R1, commonly carried in a pocket, provides sub-meter accuracy via Bluetooth connection to the phone. Photo courtesy of Land Life Company.
Building on its experience with the R1, Land Life also uses Trimble Catalyst, which combines a small GNSS antenna with software running on an Android-based smartphone. By turning the smartphone into a GNSS system that can produce up to centimeter accuracy, Catalyst makes accurate positioning fast, simple and cost-efficient. Like the R1, Catalyst uses GNSS correction data from the Trimble RTX service to produce the needed sub-meter accuracy positions. Catalyst functions as an all-in-one GNSS positioning service that can be subscribed to on a monthly or even hourly basis.
Land Life technicians use Trimble Catalyst on a project in Spain. Precise GNSS improves the efficiency and quality in monitoring performance of young trees. Photo courtesy of Land Life Company.
The accurate GNSS systems are paying off. Janmaat described a project in Spain where they could compare the new and old approaches. “Two of us were there for two full days doing close to 20 hours of work each to monitor a thousand trees. With the Trimble system, you can do a thousand trees by yourself in one day. It has sped up monitoring by at least a factor of four.”
Janmaat used data plots from a planting project in Texas to illustrate the contribution of accurate positioning to Land Life’s data-driven methods. Trees planted using accurate GNSS appear in neat rows, while those planted using only a phone GPS are uneven and more scattered.
The accurate positioning also supports direct comparison of different treatments and watering methods to specific trees over time, including use of an automated watering solution in dry areas. The data enables Land Life to improve the performance and survival rates, effectively reducing the cost per successful tree.
Janmaat is keen to share his enthusiasm and knowledge about technology in forestry and agriculture. “It provides an interesting and exciting challenge for young professionals to implement technology that enables a for-profit company to contribute to society and the Earth, while having a positive effect on our environment,” he said.
“We are doing technologically challenging stuff that we apply towards a sustainable goal. We are confident this will reduce costs and make us more effective in planting trees.”