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NASA, USDA Team for High Tech Ag Tools

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and NASA are teaming to bring technologies such as remote sensing to the American farmer. The five-year agreement permits the USDA to draw on NASA's expertise in monitoring, mapping, modeling and systems engineering.

According the USDA, the primary purpose of the project is to help increase the production efficiency of farmers while reducing the cost of production by bringing more practical benefits of science and technology into agricultural applications.

"Precision agriculture practices are helping farmers improve productivity while protecting our natural resources," said USDA Secretary Ann M. Veneman. "This partnership with NASA will make available remote sensing technologies that will advance precision agriculture."

Veneman said the technological advances available to farmers from precision agriculture techniques include monitors and maps that can detect and record changes in yields, soil attributes or crop conditions, including pest infestations and water nutrient stress.

In addition, farmers will be able to use information from remote sensors to vary the application rate and timing for seeds, fertilizers, pesticides and irrigation water.

Vehicle guidance systems will also be developed that provide on-the-go sensing for weed and pest populations and detect crop traits, such as protein or oil content, during harvest.

"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," said NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe. "The information we provide will allow our research partners to make critical, accurate and timely decisions."

One immediate outcome of the new partnership is a $1 million, 3-year program to establish Geospatial Extension Programs at land grant universities. Geospatial extension specialists work closely with NASA and USDA to address geographic information systems/remote sensing needs of the agricultural community.