NASA satellites improve response to global agricultural change


WASHINGTON – NASA’s Earth satellite observing systems are helping the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service improve the accuracy and timeliness of information they provide about important crops around the world.

Foreign Agricultural Service information is crucial in decisions affecting U.S. agriculture, trade policy, and food aid.

Team effort. NASA and the University of Maryland are providing the Foreign Agricultural Service with observations and data products from instruments on NASA’s Aqua and Terra satellites and from the TOPEX/Poseidon, Jason and Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission satellites.

Foreign Agricultural Service analysts are using these products to regularly assess global agricultural conditions.

“The partnership between NASA and Foreign Agricultural Service is an example of how we extend the benefits of Earth science missions to meet the needs of our operational partners,” said Ed Sheffner of NASA’s Earth Science Enterprise.

NASA provides daily, high-quality, observations of the Earth. The timeliness and quality of these science data products are used to support decision support tools employed by Foreign Agricultural Service to assess crop productivity over large areas of the world.

Helps farming. NASA products allow Foreign Agricultural Service analysts to distinguish between different crops such as wheat and rice and permit analysts to measure other features like surface temperature and snow cover.

Analysts can gauge the health of agriculture by comparing recent and historic data. NASA satellites collect data twice daily, Terra in the morning and Aqua in the afternoon.

Frequent satellite observations are important so analysts can assess how natural disasters such as fires, volcanic eruptions, floods, storms, or even extreme temperatures, affect crops.

The information is often crucial to international food aid organizations.

Earth Science products quickly demonstrated their utility as they helped analysts identify and monitor new areas of irrigated agriculture in the Middle East.

NASA’s Rapid Response System processes and delivers observations to Foreign Agricultural Service usually less than four hours after it is collected.

Creating archive. Scientists at the University of Maryland are creating an archive and an interface that enables analysts to compare current and historical conditions.

Altimetry data from the TOPEX/Poseidon and Jason satellites are used to monitor the water level of 100 lakes and reservoirs around the world.

Innovative use of these data to measure lake and reservoir water levels in an operational manner has proven valuable.

The information allows analysts monitor the duration of droughts, assess how much water is available for irrigated farmland in arid regions and, as a result, how much of a crop the region is able to produce.

The TRMM satellite provides near real-time observations about precipitation for mid-latitudes. Rainfall has a large impact on both rain-fed and irrigated crops.

Data helps analysts gauge planting and growing conditions and predict the size of the harvest with greater reliability.

Benefits. Applications of NASA’s Earth Science research enable the use of observations, measurements and models to improve agency partners’ decision-making capabilities.

Foreign Agricultural Service has benefited from incorporating products from Earth observation systems into operational procedures.

For more information and images on the Internet, visit


Up-to-date agriculture news in your inbox!