NASA and Agriculture

NASA's fleet of satellites has been watching over Earth for more than half a century, collecting valuable data about the crops that make up our food supply and the water it takes to grow them. This wealth of information allows scientists to monitor farmland – tracking the overall food supply, where specific crops are grown, and how much water it takes to grow them with data from the Landsat satellites and others.

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Visualizations

  • Iowa Cropland 2001-2020
    2022.03.09
    This visualization shows simulated corn and soybean yields in Iowa between 2001-2020. NASA builds detailed high resolution crop models to understand how the production of commodity crops like corn and soybean responds to weather, soil type, soil conditions, farm management and cultivar traits. These models use information about farm management on a county level and soils down to a 30 meter resolution, with verification against crop yields reported by the USDA. Climate variability produces significant variation in year-to-yield yields and even within a given field. 2012 was a year of severe drought. Also apparent in the visualization are the patterns of crop rotation and the effects of soil quality. The large, state-wide scale linear features seen in the map are due to county-level assumptions of planting date and cultivar selection. Model results help farmers plan to be more resilient against drought conditions (such as 2012) and provide a framework for integration with remote sensing for a variety of decision support tools.
  • Impact of Climate Change on Global Agricultural Yields
    2022.03.02
    Climate change will affect agricultural production worldwide. Average global crop yields for maize, or corn, may see a decrease of 24% by late century, if current climate change trends continue. Wheat, in contrast, may see an uptick in crop yields by about 17%. The change in yields is due to the projected increases in temperature, shifts in rainfall patterns and elevated surface carbon dioxide concentrations due to human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, making it more difficult to grow maize in the tropics and expanding wheat’s growing range. Maize is grown all over the world, and large quantities are produced in countries nearer the equator. North and Central America, West Africa, Central Asia, Brazil and China will potentially see their maize yields decline in the coming years and beyond as average temperatures rise across these breadbasket regions, putting more stress on the plants. Wheat, which grows best in temperate climates, may see a broader area where it can be grown in places such as the northern United States and Canada, North China Plains, Central Asia, southern Australia and East Africa as temperatures rise, but these gains may level off mid-century. Temperature alone is not the only factor the models consider when simulating future crop yields. Higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have a positive effect on photosynthesis and water retention, more so for wheat than maize, which are accounted for better in the new generation of models. Rising global temperatures are linked with changes in rainfall patterns and the frequency and duration of heat waves and droughts. They also affect the length of growing seasons and accelerate crop maturity. To arrive at their projections, the research team used two sets of models. First, they used climate model simulations from the international Climate Model Intercomparison Project-Phase 6 (CMIP6). Each of the five climate models runs its own unique response of Earth’s atmosphere to greenhouse gas emission scenarios through 2100. Then the research team used the climate model simulations as inputs for 12 state-of-the-art global crop models that are part of the Agricultural Model Intercomparison Project (AgMIP), creating in total about 240 global climate-crop model simulations for each crop. By using multiple climate and crop models in various combinations, the researchers were able to be more confident in their results.
  • Impact of Climate Change on Global Maize Yields
    2021.08.23
    Climate change will affect agricultural production worldwide. Average global crop yields for maize, or corn, may see a decrease of 24% by late century, if current climate change trends continue. Wheat, in contrast, may see an uptick in crop yields by about 17%. The change in yields is due to the projected increases in temperature, shifts in rainfall patterns and elevated surface carbon dioxide concentrations due to human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, making it more difficult to grow maize in the tropics and expanding wheat’s growing range. Maize is grown all over the world, and large quantities are produced in countries nearer the equator. North and Central America, West Africa, Central Asia, Brazil and China will potentially see their maize yields decline in the coming years and beyond as average temperatures rise across these breadbasket regions, putting more stress on the plants. Temperature alone is not the only factor the models consider when simulating future crop yields. Higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have a positive effect on photosynthesis and water retention, more so for wheat than maize, which are accounted for better in the new generation of models. Rising global temperatures are linked with changes in rainfall patterns and the frequency and duration of heat waves and droughts. They also affect the length of growing seasons and accelerate crop maturity. To arrive at their projections, the research team used two sets of models. First, they used climate model simulations from the international Climate Model Intercomparison Project-Phase 6 (CMIP6). Each of the five climate models runs its own unique response of Earth’s atmosphere to greenhouse gas emission scenarios through 2100. Then the research team used the climate model simulations as inputs for 12 state-of-the-art global crop models that are part of the Agricultural Model Intercomparison Project (AgMIP), creating in total about 240 global climate-crop model simulations for each crop. By using multiple climate and crop models in various combinations, the researchers were able to be more confident in their results.
    Science On a Sphere Content The following section contains assets designed for Science On a Sphere and related displays. SOS playlist file: playlist.sos SOS label file: labels.txt
  • Impact of Climate Change on Global Wheat Yields
    2021.09.01
    Climate change will affect agricultural production worldwide. Average global crop yields for maize, or corn, may see a decrease of 24% by late century, if current climate change trends continue. Wheat, in contrast, may see an uptick in crop yields by about 17%. The change in yields is due to the projected increases in temperature, shifts in rainfall patterns and elevated surface carbon dioxide concentrations due to human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, making it more difficult to grow maize in the tropics and expanding wheat’s growing range. Wheat, which grows best in temperate climates, may see a broader area where it can be grown in places such as the northern United States and Canada, North China Plains, Central Asia, southern Australia and East Africa as temperatures rise, but these gains may level off mid-century. Temperature alone is not the only factor the models consider when simulating future crop yields. Higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have a positive effect on photosynthesis and water retention, more so for wheat than maize, which are accounted for better in the new generation of models. Rising global temperatures are linked with changes in rainfall patterns and the frequency and duration of heat waves and droughts. They also affect the length of growing seasons and accelerate crop maturity. To arrive at their projections, the research team used two sets of models. First, they used climate model simulations from the international Climate Model Intercomparison Project-Phase 6 (CMIP6). Each of the five climate models runs its own unique response of Earth’s atmosphere to greenhouse gas emission scenarios through 2100. Then the research team used the climate model simulations as inputs for 12 state-of-the-art global crop models that are part of the Agricultural Model Intercomparison Project (AgMIP), creating in total about 240 global climate-crop model simulations for each crop. By using multiple climate and crop models in various combinations, the researchers were able to be more confident in their results.
    Science on a Sphere Content The following section contains assets designed for Science on a Sphere and related displays. SOS playlist file: playlist.sos SOS label file: labels.txt
  • A Global view of Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) Anomaly in crop-growing regions from 2000 to 2021
    2021.08.09
    Conditions in certain regions of the globe are suitable for growing particular crops but weather can alter the growing conditions in those regions throughout the year. Satellite data can gauge the health of plants, which is a good indicator of crop productivity. The satellite imagery used in this visualization shows changes in vegetation in regions where maize, rice, soybeans, summer wheat and winter wheat are grown. The Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) measures how dense and green plant leaves are which suggests overall vegetative health. Scientists calculate average NDVI values over a span of years to find out what is normal at each time of year. They then compare the current NDVI value for each day of year to the average computed over the set of base years to determine if the areas are more or less productive than the average. This comparison, called the NDVI Anomaly, is used in this visualization showing the changes in global crop production between 2000 and 2021. The NDVI anomaly images are useful as a measure of drought when compared to 'normal' plant health. In this visualization, regions where crops are more productive than average are shown by shades of green where the brightest colors are the most productive. Areas of drought are shown in shades of orange, with the most severe drought being the brightest orange/yellow. This data was measured by the vegetation instrument Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite. However, this instrument is not able to see the surface through clouds so there are regions where no data is collected on cloudy days. In these regions, the most recent prior days value is used up to 10 days before. Areas without data for ten or more days are designated as having no data. Areas with no data or areas that have a value close to average are shown in dark grey. Time periods when no data is available globally have been skipped in this visualization.
  • Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) Anomaly in crop-growing regions for selected years
    2021.08.09
    Conditions in certain regions of the globe are suitable for growing particular crops but weather can alter the growing conditions in those regions throughout the year. Satellite data can gauge the health of plants, which is a good indicator of crop productivity. The satellite imagery used in this visualization shows changes in vegetation in regions where maize, rice, soybeans, summer wheat and winter wheat are grown. The Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) measures how dense and green plant leaves are which suggests overall vegetative health. Scientists calculate average NDVI values over a span of years to find out what is normal at each time of year. They then compare the current NDVI value for each day of year to the average computed over the set of base years to determine if the areas are more or less productive than the average. This comparison, called the NDVI Anomaly, is used in this visualization showing the changes in global crop production in regions of the globe and time periods when they experienced significant drought conditions. The NDVI anomaly images are useful as a measure of drought when compared to 'normal' plant health. In this visualization, areas of drought are shown in shades of orange, with the most severe drought being the brightest orange/yellow. Regions where crops are more productive than average are shown by shades of green where the brightest colors are the most productive. This data was measured by the vegetation instrument Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite. However, this instrument is not able to see the surface through clouds so there are regions where no data is collected on cloudy days. In these regions, the most recent prior days value is used up to 10 days before. Areas without data for ten or more days are designated as having no data. Areas with no data or areas that have a value close to average are shown in dark grey. Time periods when no data is available globally have been skipped in this visualization.
  • Irrigation and Groundwater Depletion
    2017.03.29
    A time series of global irrigation and groundwater depletion maps reveals geographical patterns in the use of fresh water for agriculture. The amount of water involved is enormous. Worldwide, the irrigation of farmland accounts for about 70% of the fresh water diverted by human activity. We might each drink only a few liters (quarts) of water per day, but the food we eat can require a thousand times as much water to produce. Some of the underground aquifers tapped for irrigation replenish so slowly that they are considered a non-renewable resource. The overuse of this groundwater could have long-term consequences for food security and the stability of global markets in food, cotton, and other agricultural products. A new study by researchers at University College London and NASA's Goddard Institute of Space Studies in New York City combines trade data and a global water usage model to determine which crops are grown with non-renewable groundwater and where those crops are consumed. The study appears in the March 30, 2017 issue of Nature.
  • Agriculture Yield Projections
    2021.12.13
    NASA has the world’s largest Earth observing fleet and has an uninterrupted record and observed evidence of climate change. Increased greenhouse gases trap heat in the Earth’s atmosphere. Trapped atmospheric greenhouse gases warm the planet – our land, ocean, and atmosphere. Most of the global warming goes into the ocean, delaying the full impact of global warming. Ocean currents move the heat around the globe, impacting your local weather and climate. Warmer oceans accelerate melting of ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica. Rising seas are a major consequence of climate change, impacting coastal communities, infrastructure, and economy. Warmer climate amplifies Earth’s water cycle. Dry areas are getting drier and wet areas are getting wetter. Wet areas are experiencing more flooding and extreme storms, such as typhoons and hurricanes. Drought prone areas will see less rainfall, effecting agriculture. NASA data are used for projections that can help inform actions for the future. More extreme conditions are occurring due to climate change, such as wildfires. NASA data and knowledge are open and free, enabling informed decision-making. NASA information aids preparation and recovery from natural hazards around the world

Produced Pieces

  • Climate Change Could Affect Global Agriculture within 10 Years
    2021.11.01
    Average global crop yields for maize, or corn, may see a decrease of 24% by late century, with the declines becoming apparent by 2030, with high greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new NASA study. Wheat, in contrast, may see an uptick in crop yields by about 17%. The change in yields is due to the projected increases in temperature, shifts in rainfall patterns and elevated surface carbon dioxide concentrations due to human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, making it more difficult to grow maize in the tropics and expanding wheat’s growing range.
  • Snack Time with NASA
    2021.08.18
    Snack Time with NASA digs into the science behind what’s on your plate from a tasty cheese board, to seafood, to fresh produce, to chips and dip. Food can bring us a sense of home, and it connects people all around the world. With observations from space and aircraft, combined with high-end computer modeling, NASA scientists work together with partner agencies, organizations, farmers, ranchers, fishermen, and decision makers to understand the relationship between the Earth system and the environments that provide us food.
  • Keeping Track of Food Production From Space
    2021.07.26
    While USDA has monitored crops around the world for almost a century, the discovery that satellites can “see” greening of vegetation has revolutionized agricultural monitoring for food security. The development of the GLAM system in the 1980s, a collaboration with USDA and the International Production Assessment Division, has helped governments to assess whether or not there will be enough basic food crops to feed their populations, as well as provide international food aid organizations with a tool to predict where food shortages might occur.
  • Guiding Farmers with NASA Satellites
    2020.04.23
    Agriculture in Pakistan is dependent on irrigation from the Indus River, but over the years, these freshwater resources have become scarce. Today, it is one of the world’s most depleted basins. To tackle this, farmers are attempting to predict and track freshwater resources with the help of NASA satellites and cell phones.
  • Landsat: Farming Data From Space
    2020.02.12
    As the climate of our home planet changes, some places are drying out and others are getting wetter, including the land that produces the food we eat. Farmers are learning how to adapt to changing climate conditions. NASA's fleet of satellites has been watching over Earth for more than half a century, collecting valuable data about the crops that make up our food supply and the water it takes to grow them. This wealth of information allows scientists to monitor farmland – tracking the overall food supply, where specific crops are grown, and how much water it takes to grow them with data from the Landsat satellites and others. And with that data, farmers can find new ways to grow more crops with less water. As our climate changes, it’s more important than ever for farmers to have the knowledge they need to adapt their farming practices to a warming world. The data collected by our Earth-observing fleet helps farmers learn about the planet that sustains us – and make better decisions about how to cultivate it. The Landsat Program is a series of Earth-observing satellite missions jointly managed by NASA and the USGS. Landsat satellites have been consistently gathering data about our planet since 1972. They continue to improve and expand this unparalleled record of Earth's changing landscapes for the benefit of all.
  • Connect the Drops with NASA Data
    2019.07.09
    The varied landscapes of the United States have unique relationships with water. On the East Coast, rain is a regular occurrence. In the West, drought is a constant threat. Rivers and lakes fed by rainfall, snowmelt or a mix of both provide two-thirds of the country's drinking water while also supporting agriculture. Managing these water resources requires balancing growing demand for water in the face of shifting availability and changing climate. Many state and federal agencies and other organizations turn to NASA research, satellite data and analytical tools to help tackle these issues. Since the 1960s, NASA has been steadily expanding its view of how fresh water moves around the planet. Early satellites that imaged clouds and snow cover evolved to more recent missions that quantify rain and snowfall worldwide every half-hour, make daily observations of global snow cover, detect changes in aquifers deep underground, and monitor moisture in soils every few days. These observations are some of the most powerful assets scientists have when studying the water cycle, how it affects people and their water supplies, and how it may change in a warming climate. At NASA, researchers maintain and refine these data sets, providing them to the public at no cost. NASA researchers also help to interpret the information with sophisticated computer programs that integrate the disparate data sets and fill gaps to create a coherent picture of where and how water moves around the planet every day.
  • Landsat Croplands Data Overview
    2019.11.27
    Since 2009, the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service, or NASS, has drawn on Landsat data to monitor dozens of crops in the lower 48 states as part of NASS's Cropland Data Layer program. The Cropland Data layer uses Landsat and similar sensors to identify what crop is growing where in the country. Separately, NASS uses NASA's Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instruments aboard the Aqua and Terra satellites to monitor daily vegetation health and growth stage, all indicators of crop yield. “Landsat has been one of the only ways we can directly measure the global food supply,” said Brad Doorn, program manager for NASA's Applied Sciences Water Resources and Agriculture Research at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. However, “It's not all satellites,” Mueller said. During a typical farming year, NASS relies heavily on their ground observations and surveys data. Across the country, NASS field officials visit farms, and measure acreage and condition of planted fields throughout the growing season. NASS also receives crop acreage data from the Farm Service Agency (FSA). Farmers are required to self-report crop acreage and land use information to FSA annually. FSA uses the data to determine payment for federal programs such as crop loss due to natural disaster or financial loss from changes in market prices. NASS will publish the final Cropland Data layer in January of the following year and makes the data available to everyone through the CropScape website. Disaster managers use the sites historic data to evaluate crop damage from this year's floods and other natural disasters. Resource managers use historic data to direct crop rotation, study land-use change, and monitor water use.

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