Highlighting data from satellites, NASA seeks to expand data tools for agriculture

Pointing to weather satellites built by NASA and other partners, St. Germain said NASA has a fleet of 24 Earth-watching satellites, plus six more satellites for the Earth Sciences Division. which will be launched later this year. The Earth Sciences Division as a whole is a relatively small part of NASA, but the division takes agency technology such as sensing capability and directs it to the planet to try to figure out what’s going on here. .

“I’m biased, but I think that’s the most important thing NASA does,” St. Germain said.


These 24 satellites globally measure elements such as precipitation, soil moisture conditions, wind speed, biodensity such as vegetation and other elements including changes in the groundwater of the Earth. ‘aquifer. Satellites, along with NASA’s historical weather data, help predict scenarios such as the chance of increased rainfall in some areas and drought in others.

“And then what we do is we try to understand how the whole earth works as a system. And that also allows us to develop a predictive capacity,” St. Germain said. She added: “We also see temperatures changing, but not universally, not uniformly. So I think the question we all face is what’s next and how do we prepare for it?”

This is where St. Germain and others at NASA see a way to marry the agency’s work with that of commodity producers. NASA already makes its own crop models by combining observations of environmental conditions with the type of crop being grown. NASA models can simulate an entire growing season for a particular crop under a set of conditions and management practices. This includes crop conditions globally.

“That’s another element of that; we’re not just focusing on the United States,” she said. “We can tell you what’s happening in the world, which I think is also important information for the agricultural industry in the United States”

NASA ran its crop models with the information the agency was able to gather, combining historical data and environmental conditions to model yields at the county level. With this information, NASA began projecting corn and wheat yields around the world, based on expected weather and environmental changes.

NASA models projected into the second half of the century show that corn yields are dropping significantly in parts of the United States, while wheat yields are rising in parts of the country. The model takes into account how a plant uses carbon dioxide and water, and how the plant responds to heat. Modeling shows that wheat benefits from increased carbon dioxide while corn experiences more stress due to temperature changes. The modeling, however, does not take into account how management practices and crops may change over time to adapt to these conditions. St. Germain emphasized that the model is a tool to assess the range of future conditions to help make decisions.

“It’s not, and I want to stress this, it’s not a prediction of the future,” St. Germain told Wheat Growers. “It’s a tool, isn’t it? So what this tool could do is now allow us to see where there are likely constraints in the system. Then we can start running scenarios: if you make certain changes, what might be the impact on yields and so on?” She later added, “This is meant to figure out how we might make those adjustments.”


Goule said the NAWG board had “a major discussion” on the US Drought Monitor because wheat growers want to see updated data faster and feel some areas aren’t being accurately represented in regarding rainfall and humidity. Brad Doorn, who leads a NASA team on water and agriculture, said his team is working to provide more data to the University of Nebraska team that operates the Drought Monitor.

“Part of the problem with the Drought Monitor, and I don’t want to blame the USDA, but they want a drought indicator for everyone across the country,” Doorn said. “So we try to meet that requirement with the needs on the ground.”

St. Germain also noted that one of the limitations of the data is how often the satellites fly over and how often they refresh the data. Some satellites only cover the Earth once a month. “So one of the things I look at is what is the cost-benefit of flying more of these, so they refresh the data more often,” she said.

Bill Nelson, a former U.S. senator and now NASA director, also introduced Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to Classic on Friday via video. Nelson highlighted the Crop Condition and Soil Moisture Analytics (Crop-CASMA) tool released by NASA, USDA and George Mason University last year. Nelson said Crop-CASMA is now a critical tool used by the National Agricultural Statistics Service for weekly crop progress reports as well as monthly USDA reports of supply estimates and of world agricultural demand (WASDE). Nelson credited the USDA-NASA collaboration.

“That’s why NASA is here at this Commodity Classic,” Nelson said, adding that NASA is bringing spacecraft technology to farmers and other innovators. Nelson also called on the USDA and NASA to maintain their partnership. “Let’s keep moving forward with the next generation of technology.”

DTN video interview with Karen St. Germain: https://www.dtnpf.com/…

NASA Applied Science and Agriculture: https://appliedsciences.nasa.gov/…

Crop-CASMA is available free online at: https://cloud.csiss.gmu.edu/…

Chris Clayton can be reached at [email protected]

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