NASA satellites to help farmers irrigate
It may be an old principle in a new mode, but NASA satellites are primed to help farmers apply irrigation water at the right time and place.
This eye-in-the-sky technology is being coordinated by engineers and scientists at three well-known California sites: the Ames Research Center in Sunnyvale, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena and the Marshall Space Flight Center in Mountain View.
After completion of NASA's comprehensive test program this year, farmers should be able to take advantage of satellite-produced information received on their laptops or even their cell phones and apply it to crop co-efficients and evapo-transpiration rates specific to their crops.
The key will be photographs taken by satellites circling the earth, passing over California regularly. They will show the presence or lack of water in irrigated fields as revealed by the condition of crops growing there. Tapping into interpretations of the photos by NASA scientists will give farmers strategic guidance regarding water use.
The photos from the satellites also will provide a definitive measure of snow in the Sierra, leading to projections of water yield and expectations of runoff to dozens of storage reservoirs and lakes, even flood forecasting.
Partners with NASA in the project include the California Department of Water Resources, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service and Natural Resource Conservation Service, local universities, water districts, irrigation consultants and agricultural producers.
Significant input to the project is being provided by Western Growers (WG), the organization that represents many growers and shippers of vegetable, citrus, tree fruit and grape crops throughout the state. An article in the organization's monthly magazine outlined the process and its prospects, written by Sonia Salas, WG's science and technology manager.
The article pointed out that personnel at California State University, Monterey Bay, are directly involved and will help develop and maintain the communication with the grower community necessary to monitor and forecast irrigation demand and water supplies in California.
One operator of a Central Valley agricultural and soils laboratory has followed the NASA involvement from a distance. He admitted that the technology is sophisticated and perhaps futuristic, but not that different from soil moisture testing techniques used by farmers for years.
Also, he predicted that the ultimate effectiveness of the system will depend on "ground troops," experienced people with their feet on the ground who can interpret the star-borne data and relate it to specific needs in often unique settings.
So farmers, with a solid reputation for having their feet on the ground, can be expected to evaluate and apply the space-originated technology as long as it saves water for them and other water users, as well as saving time and money.
Like other tools used in agriculture, from tractors guided by the global positioning system, and land sculpted by using of laser technology to sophisticated harvesting machines and complex handling systems, farmers will look for the proof of the system in its performance and its profitability.
CONTACT Don Curlee at email@example.com