NASA USGS Landsat 8 Cranberry Bogs
Science & Technology

How Satellites Track Status of Nation’s Food Supply and Help Farmers

View of cranberry bogs above Little Trout Lake in northern Wisconsin on Oct. 18, 2018, from NASA-USGS Landsat 8 knowledge. Some of the cranberries have turned vivid purple and are prepared for harvesting. Credit score: NASA

Farmers throughout the Midwest are in a race to complete harvesting their corn, soybean, and different staples of the Thanksgiving dinner desk earlier than the primary crop killing freeze units in. September rains made a late harvest even later. Heavy spring rains flooded thousands and thousands of acres of cropland across the Mississippi, Wisconsin and Missouri rivers. Some farmers by no means seeded; others began three weeks not on time.

These adjustments and delays in farmers’ plans this 12 months made the USA Division of Agriculture’s job of monitoring and estimating crop manufacturing with farmer surveys and floor observations a problem. To satisfy it, they turned to the joint NASA — U.S. Geological Survey’s Landsat 8 satellite tv for pc to fill within the lacking items.

Since 2008, the USDA’s Nationwide Agricultural Statistics Service, or NASS, has drawn on Landsat knowledge to watch dozens of crops within the decrease 48 states as half of NASS’s Cropland Information Layer program. Credit score: NASA/ Matthew R. Radcliff

“Throughout irregular rising seasons or pure disasters, satellites shine,” mentioned Rick Mueller, Head of USDA’s Nationwide Agricultural Statistics Service, or NASS Spatial Evaluation Analysis Part and supervisor of the Cropland Information Layer Program in Washington. “Landsat is a sturdy and impartial option to validate what our statistics are telling us.”

Since 2009, NASS has drawn on Landsat knowledge to watch dozens of crops, together with corn, wheat, soy and cotton within the decrease 48 states as half of NASS’s Cropland Information Layer program.

The Cropland Information layer makes use of Landsat and comparable sensors to determine what’s rising the place. Individually, NASS makes use of NASA’s Reasonable Decision Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) devices aboard the Aqua and Terra satellites to watch day by day vegetation well being and progress stage, all indicators of crop yield.

“Landsat has been one of the one methods we are able to straight measure the worldwide meals provide,” mentioned Brad Doorn, program supervisor for NASA’s Utilized Sciences Water Sources and Agriculture Analysis at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

Nevertheless, “It’s not all satellites,” Mueller mentioned.

Three moments in a tumultuous 12 months for farming north of St. Louis, MO, as seen in NASA-USGS Landsat 8 knowledge. On the left is Could 7, 2019, as heavy rains delayed planting for a lot of farms. Sept 12, 2019, within the center, exhibits vivid inexperienced signifying rising vegetation, though with a good quantity of brown, naked fields. On the suitable, Oct. 14, 2019, the sunshine brown signifies harvested fields whereas darker brown are fields that haven’t been seeded or fallow all summer time. Credit score: NASA

Throughout a typical farming 12 months, NASS depends closely on their floor observations and survey knowledge. Throughout the nation, NASS discipline officers go to farms, and measure acreage and situation of planted fields all through the rising season. NASS additionally receives crop acreage knowledge from the Farm Service Company (FSA). Farmers are required to self-report crop acreage and land use info to FSA yearly. FSA makes use of the info to find out cost for federal packages resembling crop loss resulting from pure catastrophe or monetary loss from adjustments in market costs.

This 12 months was not a typical 12 months. Farmers often begin planting corn, soybean and different crops in Could. In Missouri, with 10 p.c of the state’s cropland underwater, satellite tv for pc imagery helped NASS state officers see what fields and areas have been most impacted by the floods. In addition they may see which fields had crops.

“Satellites helped us fill within the gaps and present what’s going on in each area of the state,” mentioned Robert Garino, Missouri State Statistician with the USDA. “The surveys work properly at offering estimates for the state as an entire however should not designed to seize what is going on in particular areas throughout the state.”

In June, a number of farmers couldn’t report the quantity of acres seeded to Garino’s workplace. They have been ready for his or her fields to dry. In July, the USDA used satellites knowledge to assist them revise June manufacturing estimates.

The next month, information tales reported that farmers had doubts about USDA August yield studies. “There was loads of concern over their accuracy,” mentioned Garino. “The overall feeling was that the rain and flooding would trigger each a discount of harvested acreage and a reasonably sharp discount in yield.  Whereas harvested acres, particularly for soybeans, have been considerably decreased, August yield estimates have held up properly.”

NASS will publish the ultimate Cropland Information layer in January 2020 and makes the info accessible to everybody via the CropScape web site. Catastrophe managers use the positioning’s historic knowledge to judge crop injury from this 12 months’s floods and different pure disasters. Useful resource managers use historic knowledge to direct crop rotation, research land-use change, and monitor water use.

New satellites and new knowledge partnerships are serving to NASS enhance their real-time crop monitoring functionality. Presently, pc fashions use the Cropland Information Layer to calculate month-to-month yield estimates for corn and soybeans.

Along with Landsat 8, launched in 2013, partnerships between the USGS and the European Copernicus constellation offers much more Landsat-like imagery without cost.

“The extra satellites, the higher we really feel,” mentioned Rick Mueller, head of NASS’ Spatial Evaluation Analysis Part and supervisor of the Cropland Information Layer Program in Washington.

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