Flickr photo by NASA Goodard PhotoSatellite images will help farmers determine when to water crops.
Generally preoccupied by such celestial phenomena as brown dwarves and solar flares, NASA is now turning its sights to a more provincial domain: farms.
In partnership with the California Department of Water Resources, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service and others, NASA will provide weekly satellite images of California farmland to farmers.
The photos will show farmers which of their crops are in need of water, and which aren’t, enabling them to use space-age technology to inform irrigation decisions.
Currently, farmers turn to the California Irrigation Management Information System to get daily estimates on crop evaporation. The system, however, doesn’t account for site specific conditions or annual variability in the weather. So, the estimates may differ from the actual, real-time conditions.
According to Western Growers, a partner in the project and the largest agricultural trade association in the United States, the USDA has shown that crop-satellite imagery can fix the inaccuracies in this situation. They are building an automated data-processing system that will monitor crop growth throughout the San Joaquin Valley and combine this information with weather data, crop type, soil maps and various evaporation models to give a more accurate, timely and pinpointed estimate of a particular farm’s irrigation needs.
"Water-supply reliability is a very important issue to our producers in California and Arizona," said Wendy Fink-Weber, spokeswoman for Western Growers. "The collaboration among federal space agencies, academia and industry, along with advanced satellite technology, may point the way to a more sustainable future for farming and the local supply of fresh food."
The project will also try to move the data sharing onto mobile devices to further personalize the information for individual farmers’ needs.
Other partners of the project include CSU Monterey Bay, NASA Ames Research Center, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Marshall Space Flight Center and Western Growers.
The project was described in a Western Growers’ monthly magazine article and released Monday to California Watch. Western Growers' magazine is for paid subscribers and members, only.