NASA, USDA alliance to assist farmers

Farmers may soon be able to increase their productivity using the latest in Earth science and mapping technology.

A memorandum of understanding signed May 30 will give the Agriculture Department access to NASA's monitoring, mapping and systems engineering technology. The idea behind the partnership is to improve farmers' yields and provide NASA with information for an initiative to study the Earth's response to farming.

"Precision agriculture practices are helping farmers improve productivity while protecting our natural resources," USDA Secretary Ann Veneman said in a statement.

The agreement has initiated a $1 million, three-year program to determine the geographic information and remote sensing needs of the agriculture community. Geospatial extension programs at land grant universities will allow specialists to work closely with NASA and the USDA to address those needs.

"NASA's unique ability to view the Earth from space will enhance our ability to predict climate, weather and natural hazards, as well as to mitigate and assess the effects of natural and human-induced disasters," NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe said in a statement."

Several new technologies will be available to farmers under this agreement, according to the USDA:

* Monitors and maps to detect and record changes in yields, soil properties and crop conditions.

* The use of sensors to vary the application rate and timing for seeds, fertilizers, pesticides and irrigation water.

* Vehicle guidance systems to provide sensing for weed and pest populations and detect crop properties, such as protein content, during harvest.

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