NASA Satellites Can Help Farmers Save Massive Amounts of Water

satellite fields nasa photo

Photo: NASA, public domain.
Agriculture 2.0: Doing More With Less
Imagine a farmer sitting at the kitchen table or at the wheel of a GPS-controlled tractor, looking at the screen of a iPad or smartphone that shows his fields seen from above with various data-points overlaid on top. "Hmm, the North-West corner needs a bit more water today." and 'tap-tap' on the screen and the drip-irrigation system releases a bit more water there, taking into account the relative air humidity and the next few days' weather forecast. Maybe there's even a button somewhere that orders more ladybugs from a, organic pest-control supplier... This vision of the future of farmer is coming closer to being reality every year, and it's a good thing that it does because in the future agriculture will have to provide more (healthy food) with less (water, chemicals, land).
usda farmer photo

Photo: USDA, public domain.
How We Use Water Impacts Large Ecosystems
Why is this important? Because irrigation for food production is about 70% (!) of water use in the U.S., and even more in some other countries. This is a gigantic amount of water, and while it is not destroyed (unlike fossil fuels), it could be used much more efficiently and we could keep many aquifers, rivers, and lakes in much better condition.

NASA researchers have developed a computer program to help farmers better manage irrigation systems in real time. The software uses data from NASA satellites, local weather observations, and wireless sensor networks installed in agricultural fields to calculate water balance across a field and provide farmers with information on crop water needs and forecasts that can be accessed from computers or handheld devices. (source)

This system is being beta-tested by farmers and vineyard managers in the San Joaquin Valley in California as part of an 18-month research project to optimize irrigation management. The project is the first to combine satellite and surface observations to estimate irrigation needs at the scale of an individual field or vineyard, and distribute the information to farmers in near real time.

satellite fields nasa photo

Photo: NASA, public domain.

We're still in the early stages of this technology, but the trend is obvious, especially in countries where agriculture is still very inefficient (uses lots of water, chemicals, fertilizer, etc).

Via Technology Review
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