Dec. 26, 1997 STARKVILLE, Miss.--Research based on space technology is helping improve crop management decisions for rural farmers.
Alex Thomasson, an assistant professor of agricultural and biological engineering at Mississippi State University, leads a multi-state study focusing on ways satellite remote sensing can provide precise agricultural data.
Remote sensing uses high-flying sensors to capture and transmit data about the earth. In agriculture, the data can be used to create field maps showing water, fertilizer and other input needs for specific areas within a field.
Treating only precise areas can save farmers money while generating environmental benefits.
"The use of satellite data to determine the types of inputs needed for specific locations is in its infancy," said Thomasson, who also is a researcher with the MSU-based Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station.
"This study will focus on improving farm management based on site-specific knowledge."
The project is funded by a three-year, $372,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy's Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory. It will begin with the 1998 crop year and involve scientists in Mississippi, Kentucky and Idaho.
Cotton will be the target in Mississippi; corn in Kentucky and wheat in Idaho.
Dean Pennington, executive director of the Yazoo Mississippi Delta Joint Water Management District, is co-investigator for the Mississippi research. He and Thomasson will use the fields of cooperating producers to gather the data.
Primarily, they will explore the use of satellite-generated field maps to determine crop yields and water needs, as well as the amount of crop biomass--the residue from earlier seasons.
According to Thomasson, some parts of a field can become stressed before others because water loss isn't uniform. "In fact, the variability in water stress increases as a field dries out. We will be looking at ways farmers can use remote sensing data to determine proper irrigation timing."
The biomass part of the study will be important for producers using no-tillage systems since biomass builds up on top of the soil. The buildup often will be heavier in some parts of a field, creating the need to increase seeding rates for these locations to ensure an adequate crop stand.
"The satellite images will help us identify areas that need heavier seeding rates," Thomasson said.
Researchers will compare the satellite data with information collected by researchers on the ground. The comparisons will help them perfect ways to interpret and use the information generated by the satellite observations.
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