New satellite technology may predict agricultural yields

Midwesterners, congratulations. You are currently located in the area of the world that has the most photosynthetic activity.

Findings released on Ag Day (March 25, read more about Ag Day here), showcased the first-ever estimation of photosynthesis from agriculture. Photosynthesis is the process by which plants convert light to energy. During the Midwest’s growing season, a map of the world was lit up by photosynthetic activity stretching across Ohio, Nebraska and Kansas.

The activity was measured by the “magnitude of glow that healthy plants emit,” an article in Farm Futures states. On average, the tropics are the most productive. During the Midwest’s growing season, it is the US “Corn Belt” that is the star.

Led by Joanna Joiner of NASA, the research showed that particularly during the month of July, the Corn Belt peaks in productivity at about 40% greater than that in the Amazon.


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The project is in its infancy stages, beginning in 2012, but it also holds a lot of promise.

“This can go a long way regarding monitoring — and maybe even predicting — regional crop yields,” Christian Frankenberg, co-author of the findings said.

Future studies are being planned, including one with NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2, which would help to measure solar-induced fluorescence from plants. This research would then help scientists improve computer models to simulate the carbon cycle on Earth. Current estimations of the cycle reportedly “underestimate the productivity of the Corn Belt by 40-60%.”

In addition, these techniques beginning with measuring the productivity of plants could also become a powerful monitoring tool for food security.

To learn more about the study, click here.

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