NASA Satellites Keep Watch on U.S. Food Supply

NASA Satellites Keep Watch on U.S. Food Supply


America has always been a fertile land: grasslands and forests and farms from sea to shining sea. The U.S. Department of Agriculture tracks how many acres and the annual yield for every crop produced. From the big ones like corn, wheat, soy. To regional crops like cotton, rice, citrus. They track every year, using data from Landsat satellites and others, combined with data from surveys on the ground. Landsat satellites see detail at the human scale, about the size of a baseball diamond, and can image individual farm fields. The program started in 1997,with North Dakota, as an experiment. Other states became interested and the program grew. In 2008, Landsat data became free to use and the USDA could afford to map forty-eight states. During the growing season the data helps estimate crop yields, which helps farmers and traders set prices for the harvest. Thanks to Landsat’s detailed view, the USDA tabulates stats crop by crop, county by county, and state by state. At the end of each year, the data set is released to the public and it is a beautiful sight. The patchwork of corn (in yellow) and soybeans (in green) in the midwest. The diversity of crops in California’s central valley. The clusters of citrus in Florida and California and Texas. We can see changes in farming through the years. The easiest to see is crop rotation in the mid-west, cycling between corn and soybeans. In northern North Dakota, there was a shift from barley and wheat to soybeans and canola. And we see an increase in cotton fields (shown in red) in Texas and Oklahoma. Thanks to the free and open access to Landsat data, the US Department of Agriculture is providing our farmers with accurate data and helping maintain our nation’s food supply. [music]

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