Farmers in US use aerial photographs to track crops

Farmers in US use aerial photographs to track crops

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Well-versed with the welfare of their crops on the ground, Georgia farmers soon will have the benefit of NASA technology that will give them a birds eye view of their crops from the air. In Time Inc. of Cleveland, Miss., is planning to expand into Georgia and offer aerial photography services. The service can be used in concert with the global positioning satellite, or GPS, navigation system to help a grower decide precisely what areas in a field need attention.

We go up, take a picture of a farm that day and by the next morning farmers have access to it, said Kelly Dupont, one of the co-founders of the company. But farmers dont get a regular photo. The camera is sensitive to only near-infrared, red and green, filtering out other colors. Those three colors reflect best off chlorophyll in plants, he said.

The result is a picture of the cropland that ranges from shades of brown to bright green, with undernourished plants falling in the light green-to-brown range. The farmer can access the photos on companys Web site, where a color-coded map shows where fertilization and irrigation are needed. Combining that with farm equipment linked to the GPS system allows a grower to precisely deliver needed inputs.

The season-long service costs $7-$8 an acre. Its now available in Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Louisiana, Mississippi and North Carolina, Dupont said. For the service to be extended to Georgia, the company needs to win agreements to photograph at least 30,000 acres, or about 10 average-sized farms, he said. The company photographed 70,000 acres this year and estimates it will service 200,000 acres of farmland in 2004. About 150,000 acres have already committed for next year, Dupont said. Like many modern technologies, this one stems from the U.S. space program.

The technology was developed by NASA at Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.

Tommy Smith, manager of Underwood Inc. Farms in Alabama, said the system also helped his operation increase yields.