The Changing Shape Of Farming

  • Released Tuesday, October 6th, 2015
  • Updated Wednesday, May 3rd, 2023 at 1:49PM

Garden City, Kansas, is at the heart of the American breadbasket where farmers grow corn, wheat and sorghum and raise cattle. Over the last sixty years, farmers have shifted their operations from rain fed-oriented agriculture to low-cost groundwater pumps and a technique called "center-pivot irrigation" to essentially mine for water locked deep underground. Center-pivot irrigation is a labor and water-saving method that has revolutionized agriculture worldwide, increasing yields and allowing food production in areas where plants would otherwise wither from drought. With this method, the water for growing crops is pumped directly from groundwater wells in the center of a field to a long pipe studded with low-hanging sprinklers. The pipe rotates from the center like the hand of a clock, watering the fields. The switch to this irrigation method has transformed Garden City’s farmland over time, with large circular plots taking the place of rectangular fields. Explore the images to see a space-based view of the changes captured by USGS-NASA Landsat satellites.

In this false-color image from 1972, healthy vegetation appears bright red while sparse grasslands and fallow fields are in shades of green.

In this false-color image from 1972, healthy vegetation appears bright red while sparse grasslands and fallow fields are in shades of green.

The shift from rectangular fields of rain-fed farms to circular plots that use center-pivot irrigation is visible in this image from 1988.

The shift from rectangular fields of rain-fed farms to circular plots that use center-pivot irrigation is visible in this image from 1988.

Crop circle patterns produced by center-pivot irrigation cover the landscape in this image taken in 2015.

Crop circle patterns produced by center-pivot irrigation cover the landscape in this image taken in 2015.

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Please give credit for this item to:
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center