HANCOCK COUNTY, Miss. - Representatives from four major agricultural grower associations, representing 115,000 farmers, came to Stennis Space Center Aug. 12 and 13, to work with NASA and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in crafting a national strategy to help farmers improve their planting, fertilizing and harvesting methods. "The overriding goal of this unprecedented meeting is to spend less and grow more," said David Brannon, program manager of NASA's Commercial Remote Sensing Program (CRSP) at Stennis. "By bringing remote sensing technology and variable-rate precision farming technology together, we will be able to provide farmers with information about crops and their condition."
Representatives of the National Corn Growers Association, National Cotton Council, American Soybean Association and National Association of Wheat Growers met with Brannon; Under Secretary of Agriculture for Research, Education and Economics, Dr. Miley Gonzales; and Associate Administrator of NASA's Office of Earth Science, Dr. Ghassem Asrar hope to find ways of expanding early results of farmers like Mississippian Ken Hood, owner of Perthshire Farms, to more farmers across the county.
Hood, who grows cotton and soybeans on his 12,000-acre farm in Gunnison, has worked with Stennis' CRSP office by utilizing information taken from remote sensing imagery to improve his farming techniques.
"Remote sensing has opened up avenues for cost-savings," said Hood, whose farm has served as a test site for three years. "I've increased my yields. Because of remote sensing, I am better able to utilize my chemical applications. I used to put out equal amounts of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides across whole fields. Now, with precision farming, I only put out what's needed."
Precision farming, as used by Hood, is a rapidly emerging commodity production system in which crop inputs such as seed, fertilizer and pesticide are applied only to specific areas where they are needed, rather than general application across an entire field.
Stennis Space Center is NASA's lead center for commercial remote sensing. Remote sensing uses instruments mounted on satellites or aircraft to capture detailed images of the Earth that can reveal features not apparent to the human eye. These pictures are analyzed, and the extracted information is used to support decision-making in agriculture and forestry, as well as such diverse market areas as insurance, banking, real estate and environmental monitoring.
Faced with 25-year lows in commodity prices, the growers, who gathered for the first time to collaborate, expressed urgency in finding ways to make this technology available to the associations' producer members as soon as possible.
"Looking at the possibilities of the technologies and the science and chances for broader crop application, I think this is just a tremendous opportunity. In addition to the discussions we have here, we will begin to think of ways to make sure our producer community remains viable for the long term," said Gonzales. "The decision tools that come from this dialogue in making this technology reliable, confident and marketable to the growers, will hopefully be the beginning of a process that will, over the next decade, become the norm in terms of farming and commodity production," said Asrar.
The workshop, held to better understand and prioritize the informational needs of farmers, was a function of a USDA - NASA partnership initiative devoted to significantly increasing the application of NASA's remote sensing data, information, science and technologies to societal needs, ensuring maximum return on taxpayer investments.
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News releases provided by NASA's Stennis Space Center are available athttp://www.ssc.nasa.gov/~pao/news/newsreleases/1999. For more information, call the NASA Public Affairs Office at Stennis at1-800-237-1821 in Mississippi and Louisiana only, or (228) 688-3341.
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