U.S. farmers have long embraced opportunities to improve their crop and their land through on-farm technology, whether through irrigation, biotechnology, or drones.

A new on-farm technology opportunity is the Soil Moisture Active-Passive (SMAP) system from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). This satellite, positioned 426 miles above Earth, measures the amount of water in the top layer of soil anywhere on the planet.

The SMAP technology has been around for several years, but USDA is now utilizing the new data from SMAP to monitor U.S. cropland and make commodity forecasts. The Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS), a branch of the USDA, hosts information on their Crop Explorer website that shares global soil data such as soil moisture, temperature, precipitation, vegetation health and more. By incorporating SMAP data onto this website, agriculture analysts can more accurately predict where there could be too little, or too much, water in the soil to support crops. This helps keep an eye on possible drought, flooding, or any other soil moisture issues that farmers would not have the data identify on their own.

Personally, SMAP data has affected my life already. I work part time at our local Watershed Office and we had a student who used the NASA satellite imagery to explain why a predicted flood in 2013 didn’t actually happen. His research led him to a theory that tile drainage alleviated the flooding, and that it is also resulting in warmer soil temperatures in the spring and cooler soil temperatures in the summer. This information is very complimentary to agricultural crop needs.

SMAP information is also available on Google Earth Engine, where researchers, farmers, and others can access to improve crop management and create a better product.

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