Measuring Pasture Production with Satellite Data

The Environmental Observation and Informatics Program and Organic Valley are partnering on a graduate student project focused on sustainable agriculture and remote sensing.

View this announcement as a pdf

Project Background and Student Focus

Satellite images can help dairy farmers measure the production of their farms. While scientific research has shown that annual crop yield (such as corn) can be measured with satellite data, measuring production on perennial grasslands would directly benefit farmers and support sustainable agricultural practices. The environmental observation and informatics (EOI) program in the Nelson Institute and scientists at Organic Valley are recruiting a student to support a project to provide reports to farmers that include estimates of forage biomass and quality as measured from satellites. High-resolution satellite images will be provided through a partnership with Planet. The student will interpret and analyze high-resolution satellite imagery, develop and validate statistical models, and communicate results to scientists and farmers.

The ideal candidate for this project will have the following qualifications:

  • Background in agriculture, agronomy, agroecology, or related field either through undergraduate degree or work experience
  • Familiarity with geospatial data, including GIS platforms and simple analyses
  • Interest in collaborating with non-academic audiences to identify the most appropriate data and methods to produce desired outcomes for farmers
  • Experience with rotational grazing dairy farms in the United States
  • A bachelor’s degree from an accredited four-year institution with an undergraduate GPA of 3.0 or higher

About the Environmental Observation and Informatics (EOI) Program

The EOI program is 32-credit master of science degree completed over 15 months (program starts in June 2023 and is completed in August 2024). EOI is a professionally focused MS where students focus on coursework and complete an independent project with a professional organization. All students are advised by the EOI Program Coordinator and are supported by environmental professional program staff and UW-Madison instructors and faculty.

What the student will learn through the EOI program to support the Organic Valley project:

  • Fundamentals of environmental remote sensing; image interpretation, digital image processing
  • Experience with a variety of earth observation data: satellite data such as Landsat, Sentinel, and Planet, airborne hyperspectral and LiDAR, UAV imagery
  • Statistical foundations of hypothesis testing and regression, advanced spatial statistics
  • Writing scripts in a programming environment, such as R, Python, and Google Earth Engine
  • Professional skills for project management, communication, and collaboration

How to Apply

All applicants must apply to the EOI program and indicate their interest in the Organic Valley project in their statement of interest. To apply for the EOI program, submit an application to the Environmental Conservation: Environmental Observation and Informatics program for summer 2023 by April 1.

View the complete EOI program application requirements

Complete application materials include the following:

  • Resume or CV
  • Statement of interest
  • Two letters of recommendation
  • Unofficial undergraduate transcripts
  • Professional portfolio

In the statement of interest, include a paragraph specifically stating your interest in the project with Organic Valley and state why you are a good candidate by directly addressing the listed qualifications.

The statement of interest should also speak to your interests and qualifications for the EOI program as a whole. Please see the FAQ page for specific guidance about the statement of interest for the program application.

All applicants will be considered for admission to the EOI program, even if they are not selected for this project. If not selected for the project, all admitted applicants will complete a professional project in an area of their interest and will be supported by the Program Coordinator in identifying and developing this project. While the type of project and organization is open, the EOI program has relationships with the USDA Agricultural Research Service, UW-Madison Grasslands 2.0, and Madison-based companies. For more information about the final project experience for all students, see the page about the leadership project.

The Graduate School application requires a $75 application fee. The Graduate School offers fee grants to qualifying individuals. View more information about fee grants


Students in the EOI program are not provided funding packages through a research, teaching, or project assistantship. Tuition for the 15-month, 32-credit EOI program is $32,000. For financial support, the applicant is expected to apply for the following sources of funds (these are separate applications from the EOI program application):

  • At the time of application (no later than April 1, 2023), the Environmental Professional Program’s Tuition Assistance. This award reduces the cost of program tuition but does not provide funding for the costs of living or the project.
  • After acceptance to EOI and selection for the project (after April 2023), the Organic Valley Farmers Advocating for Organics grant. EOI program staff and faculty will support the application. Funds can be used to support the student directly and cover costs associated with the project. This funding is not guaranteed and work on the project can be completed without this funding.


Please contact Dr. Sarah Graves at with questions about applying for the project.