fy2000 link to home page department of agriculture

logo for the US Department of AgricultureDuring FY 2001, several USDA agencies regularly used remotely sensed data to support operational and research activities. These agencies include, but are not limited to, the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS), Farm Service Agency (FSA), Forest Service (FS), National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Following are brief summaries from these six agencies describing how remotely sensed data were used to accomplish departmental goals and objectives during FY 2001.

The ARS research program used remotely sensed data and related technologies to develop techniques and methodologies to monitor, assess, and administer agricultural, rangeland, and natural resources. ARS identified eight areas for research of the application of remotely sensed information to agricultural and natural resource problems. These areas encompassed 1) soil properties and assessment, 2) hydrometeorology, 3) crop management, 4) range management, 5) land use evaluation, 6) water quality and aquatic ecosystems, 7) sensor development and calibration, and 8) development of analytical tools for remotely sensed data. ARS scientists were involved in a broad remote-sensing research program that involved more than 30 laboratories. These laboratories cooperated extensively with other Federal and State agencies, in this country and abroad, to extend the applications of remotely sensed data for agricultural and natural resources management. This research resulted in the development of new and cost-effective methods to assess agricultural and natural resources at local, regional, and global scales. The following examples epitomize the breadth and depth of remote-sensing research in ARS.

ARS scientists used remote-sensing data from ground, aircraft, and satellite platforms to develop methods to monitor, assess, and manage the Nation’s waters on small and large scales. For example, at the Kika de la Garza Subtropical Agricultural Research Center in Weslaco, Texas, scientists used aerial photography and videography to detect water-lettuce infestations in Texas waterways. Similarly, scientists at the Northwest Watershed Research Center in Boise, Idaho, used very-large-scale, color-infrared aerial photography of stream segments to quantify stream shading by riparian vegetation. Stream shading was under consideration by the Environmental Protection Agency as a possible remotely sensed surrogate for direct stream temperature measurements because it is logistically impossible to use ground-based techniques to characterize the spatial dynamics of stream temperature within extensive and remote rangeland stream systems. Researchers in Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, and Texas used remote sensing to develop methods to monitor water quality. A prototype submersible sensor to monitor harmful algal species, such as those responsible for red tide and dead zones, was being tested in the St. John’s River in collaboration with other regional, State, and Federal agencies.

ARS scientists in Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Maryland, New Mexico, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Texas collaborated with personnel from NASA and other Federal and international agencies to study interactions between the Earth’s surface and atmosphere, and how these interactions influence climate change and the management of agricultural and natural resources. For example, researchers from the ARS Hydrology and Remote Sensing Laboratory and the University of Virginia, Department of Environmental Sciences, explored the coupling between the land and the atmospheric boundary layer using a three-dimensional turbulence large eddy simulation model and remotely sensed land surface images. An analysis of the results revealed the existence of scale-dependent earth/atmosphere interactions, suggesting that significant changes in regional land use or agricultural practices could affect local and regional climate. This research was a fundamental step in addressing the effects of climate change on agricultural resources and will help in the development of mitigation strategies.

In Arizona, California, Colorado, Iowa, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, and Texas, ARS scientists worked on developing remote sensors and techniques to monitor crop growth, soil conditions, and plant water and fertilizer requirements. These sensors and techniques have helped in the development of precision farming techniques that enable farmers to maximize crop production while minimizing agricultural effects on the environment. Work also focused on sensor calibration. ARS scientists from the U.S. Water Conservation Laboratory in Phoenix, Arizona, and from the Southwest Watershed Research Center in Tucson, Arizona, teamed with personnel from NASA Stennis Space Center and the National Imaging and Mapping Agency to perform a multiple-platform calibration in July 2001. Images of the University of Arizona’s Maricopa Agricultural Center were acquired via sensors aboard IKONOS, Landsat 7, and NASA Earth Observing System (EOS) satellites, as well as aircraft ranging from a Learjet to a powered parachute. Ground crews measured plant and soil parameters, surface properties, and atmospheric conditions in support of this project. ARS scientists used these data to evaluate each sensor’s suitability for helping growers make better informed management decisions related to the water and nutrient needs of their crops.

ARS personnel applied remote sensing in recent studies of insect, weed, and disease infestations and rangeland conditions. One goal of this research was to develop new remote-sensing tools and techniques to help decisionmakers better manage pests and weeds affecting agriculture and natural resources. For example, the ARS Screwworm Research Program found that screwworm population densities were highest in edges between mature forests and open fields in the tropics. Researchers developed methods to identify these habitats using Landsat Thematic Mapper (TM), SPOT, and RADARSAT satellite data. The ability to locate probable screwworm populations using remotely sensed data would increase the efficiency and effectiveness of USDA’s biological control of screwworm.

The FAS remote-sensing program is administered by the Production Estimates and Crop Assessment Division (PECAD). PECAD is the focal point within FAS and USDA for assessing global agricultural production and conditions that affect world food security. PECAD is the world’s most extensive and longest running (20 years) operational user of commercial satellite data, using numerous satellite platforms to evaluate agronomic situations worldwide. This basic market intelligence effort was mandated in the legislation, establishing the agency in 1954 (Title VI of the Agricultural Act of 1954). PECAD is the only operational unit of its type in the world.

PECAD was responsible for global crop condition analysis and estimates of world grain, oilseed, and cotton production. Satellite remote-sensing data are a critical components used in making crop production and condition estimates for key markets and competitors, providing reliable, repeatable, and comparable observations. In 2001, the division confirmed and enhanced remote-sensing data by incorporating economic, weather, crop model, and field observation data in a "convergence of evidence" methodology. These data came from public and private sources. Remote sensing enabled PECAD to obtain information in regions where such information is often difficult to obtain. Satellite data were frequently more timely and reliable, and often more complete, than conventional sources. Furthermore, satellite data were quite inexpensive compared to the cost of maintaining staff in overseas offices or continually funding travel for U.S.-based analysts.

PECAD helped USDA and other agencies "right size" food aid and other emergency response efforts by providing unbiased assessments of the influence of weather and other events on food supplies. Two division analysts provided full-time support to the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) by providing crop condition assessments and early warnings of crop disasters through the FSA/FAS Center for Remote-Sensing Analysis. FAS also shared data and analyses with other USDA and U.S. Government agencies to meet national security requirements and assess global food security needs. In 2000, USDA designated FAS as the repository and manager of the USDA Satellite Imagery Archive. FAS purchased, archived, and shared satellite data with six other USDA agencies, substantially reducing individual agency costs. All high- and medium-resolution and some low-resolution satellite data were purchased commercially. Some low-resolution data was acquired from NASA and NOAA. NOAA and the U.S. Air Force Weather Agency (AFWA) provided the satellite weather data.

FSA completed a three-state pilot that compared alternative methods for collecting aerial photography for farm program compliance. During FY 2001, FSA acquired most of the U.S. agricultural area data using light aircraft equipped with 35-millimeter cameras and color slide film. FSA tested approaches to replace this methodology with a program that delivered 1 to 2 m geo-referenced digital imagery. FSA challenged the private sector to collect, rectify, package by county, and deliver, within 60 days of the flying window, usable products. Data for 51 counties in Kansas and Nebraska were collected through this project, and the result was an amazing achievement for inexpensive, high-quality digital images. As an added benefit, FSA had the color film, similar to that available through the National Aerial Photography Program (NAPP), stored at the Aerial Photography Field Office in Salt Lake City, Utah. The film was capable of being scanned to create 1-meter Digital Orthophoto Quadrangles.

As a result of the Kansas and Nebraska pilots, FSA began a major paradigm shift. FSA began redirecting its $500,000 NAPP cost-share money to contract internally to create digital products that can serve FSA compliance requirements. These products were anticipated to be a great national asset, used by Federal, State and local Governments, as well as the public, to obtain low-cost, high-resolution digital images of domestic agricultural areas. FSA spent about $2 per square mile to acquire film for the 35-millimeter compliance program. In contrast, this new digital acquisition method required $12 to $14 per square mile. The FSA FY 2002 and 2003 budgets would not allow this innovation to be fielded.

The FSA also tested a lower cost alternative in Minnesota. Here, companies flew small aircraft with digital sensors and 35-millimeter film-based cameras. These products were not geo-referenced as well and, combined with a small footprint, were more difficult to use. This new digital acquisition method required $4 to $8 per square mile.

FS continued to manage 191 million acres of public lands in national forests and grasslands, and provided technical and financial assistance to State and private forestry agencies. FS also continued its role as the largest forestry research organization in the world. Wildfires in 2000 and 2001 were larger, more frequent, and more numerous than those seen in recent years. The number and severity of these fires severely taxed Federal and State wildfire management resources. The FS Remote Sensing Applications Center (RSAC) collaborated with staff at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and the University of Maryland to develop the Moderate-Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) Land Rapid Response System, providing a range of time-critical data to the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) and other Federal and State users. Staff at the RSAC used MODIS data to generate cumulative and daily active fire maps, and disseminated the maps to users via an Internet Web-based system. The Federal wildfire community used this near-real-time data to assist in the strategic allocation of assets and in post-fire rehabilitation efforts. Before the end of the fiscal year, technicians installed an antenna at the RSAC facility in Salt Lake City, Utah, to receive Direct Broadcast MODIS data that was expected to become operational in FY 2002.

NASA also supported FS by acquiring high-altitude color photography over the nearly 1,600,000 acres of the Deschutes National Forest. The imagery included large format camera 9 x 18-inch color-infrared photography at 1:30,000 scale and 9 x 9-inch color-infrared photography at 1:60,000 scale. FS staff used this photography for a wide range of resource management applications, including recreational planning and forest health management.

The mission of NASS continued to be the provision of timely, accurate, and useful statistics describing U.S. agriculture. These statistics cover virtually every facet of domestic agriculture, from the production and supply of food and fiber to the prices paid and received by farmers and ranchers.

During FY 2001, NASS personnel used remote-sensing data to construct area frames for statistical sampling, estimate crop area, and create crop-specific land-cover data layers for geographic information systems (GIS). For area frame construction, NASS staff combined digital Landsat and SPOT data with U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) digital line-graph data, enabling users to assign a category to each piece of land in a State based on the percentage of cultivated land and other variables. NASS implemented a new remote-sensing-based area frame and sample for Tennessee and Wisconsin. The remote-sensing acreage estimation project analyzed Landsat data from the 2000 crop season in Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Mississippi, New Mexico, and North Dakota. These data were used to produce crop acreage estimates for major crops at State and county levels, and to develop a crop-specific categorization of a digital mosaic of TM scenes, which was distributed to users on a CD-ROM. For the 2001 crop season, NASS headquarters and several NASS field offices continued partnership agreements with State organizations, working to decentralize Landsat processing and analysis tasks, and expanding into the boot heel of Missouri and a pilot area in southeastern Nebraska. The pilot area in southeastern Nebraska was a joint project with FSA to examine the accuracy of NASS crop-specific categorizations. Data for 2001 acreage estimation analyses were collected in Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, and North Dakota. NASS, in conjunction with ARS, began studying data obtained from the MODIS sensor on the NASA Terra satellite for use as an additional input for setting yield estimates and as a possible replacement for Advanced Very-High-Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) data in generating vegetation condition images.

NRCS is the primary Federal agency working with private landowners to help them protect their natural resources. Much of the land management business conducted by NRCS requires the use of good science and practical technology, such as remote sensing. NRCS has used aerial photography and related remote- sensing products for over 50 years to conduct agency programs and business.

In FY 2001, aerial photography and orthoimagery (1-meter resolution) were used extensively nationwide for conducting soil surveys as part of the National Cooperative Soil Survey program. Soil scientists used digital orthoimagery to map and digitize soils at their true map positions on the ground. NRCS personnel also used digital orthoimagery for conservation planning, wetland delineations, watershed planning, and to provide technical assistance to landowners and communities. NRCS acquired and used high-quality (1-foot resolution) aerial photography to conduct the annual continuous National Resources Inventory (NRI). In FY 2001, the agency expanded use of GIS to most county field offices. As a result, the need for digital orthoimagery for use as a mapping and planning base map also increased.

NRCS obtained all of its aerial photography and digital orthoimagery from commercial sources. NRCS coordinated with USDA and other Federal agencies in the purchase of aerial photography and digital orthoimagery. Much of the aerial photography was obtained through NAPP, a partnership of Federal and State agencies. Digital orthoimagery was coordinated and obtained through the National Digital Orthophoto Program (NDOP), a partnership of Federal and State agencies having common imagery requirements. All of the data developed through these national imagery programs became part of the public domain, permitting agencies to share these data and imagery internally and externally without licensing or use restrictions.

The NRI program required high-resolution imagery over confidential statistical sampling sites. In FY 2001, NRCS purchased high-quality imagery for approximately 72,500 sites nationwide. The USDA Aerial Photography Field Office of FSA contracted for the imagery. The FSA office had responsibility for contracting aerial photography in the USDA.

Compared to the purchase and use of aerial photography and digital imagery derived from airborne systems, NRCS purchased and used only a modest amount of satellite imagery. Most NRCS programs and activities required high-resolution imagery from airborne systems. Satellite systems were not able to provide high-resolution imagery to NRCS at a cost comparable to airborne systems.

NRCS was well represented on Federal mapping, remote sensing, GPS, and geodata committees. Significant time and resources were devoted to supporting the work of the Federal Geographic Data Committee, NAPP, NDOP, Interagency GPS Executive Board, and other groups. Coordination efforts within these committees resulted in partnerships to cost share in the development, acquisition, and sharing of imagery and geodata.

NRCS has actively used GPS for more than six years as a tool in support of carrying out conservation programs and technical assistance. Over 1,000 GPS receivers were in use at county field offices. In FY 2001, NRCS led a GPS modernization team of USDA county service center agencies to develop business application requirements, equipment configuration specifications, and to provide contact support to the department for the awarding of an USDA-wide GPS contract for commercial off-the-shelf GPS receivers.

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