May 15, 2002 - Precision Farming

If they can put a man on the moon, how come they can't figure out a better way to grow crops? Well, they can. Just ask NASA.

A NASA plane uses digital cameras to track harmful bugs in a Louisiana cotton field. Researcher Matthew Bethel explains, "what we want to do is use our expertise in remote sensing to help the American farmer be more competitive in the global market by better managing his crop." The program is called AG 20/20. When it's up and running nationwide, the same kind of remote mapping can be created wholesale by satellite. On the ground, that'll lead to a technique called precision farming.

"The easiest way to explain precision farming," says Rodney McKellip of NASA, "is farming by the foot rather than by the field." Global positioning satellite gear in the cab tells the tractor where to spray insecticide, and when to stop spraying. Not only are the farmer's costs cut, but, in the words of farmer Jay Hardwick, "what's good for the people is the understanding that the farmers of the United States are concerned about this and want to do what's best for the person sitting in the arm chair watching TV in the United States to know that their food and fiber is of a pesticide use is at a minimum." Better food for us and a leg up for the American farmer in the increasingly competitive global marketplace.

In the opening phase of AG 20/20, NASA is using it only on the nation's four biggest commodities, corn, soybeans, wheat and cotton. However, the space agency says AG 20/20 can be applied to all sorts of farming, including rice and sugar.