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Published April 03, 2013, 10:10 AM

USDA introduces VegScape program

VegScape supplements, but doesn’t replace, the widely followed crop progress reports that USDA issues during the growing season.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

Area agriculturalists have a new online tool this growing season.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service has introduced VegScape-Vegetation Condition Explorer, a satellite-based service that provides current information on crop conditions.

VegScape supplements, but doesn’t replace, the widely followed crop progress reports that USDA issues during the growing season, says Rick Mueller, who works with the National Ag Statistics Service.

VegScape uses a NASA satellite to identify crop conditions in 15-acre chunks, with the Normalized Difference Plant Index measuring and monitoring plant growth, vegetative cover and biomass production. Higher values indicate stronger plant vigor and high chlorophyll content. Lower values indicate low vegetative content and plant heartiness.

New satellite data is loaded into VegScape each week during the growing season. People who use the program can compare current conditions to conditions at a given time during the previous 12 years. The program includes a “crop mask” that helps identify what is cropland and what isn’t.

The product can be used by people involved in production agriculture, as well as researchers, government agencies and any other person or organization interested in crop conditions, Mueller says.

The program includes an online user guide.

Two years ago, the National Ag Statistics Service introduced CropScape, a satellite-based service that provides online information on cropland across the country from 1997 to 2012. Among other things, CropScape helps track how cropping patterns have changed.

“What’s grown in North Dakota in 1997 is way different from what was grown in 2012,” Mueller says. “There’s a whole lot of corn and beans now. A lot of things have been displaced.”

The program also can measure urban sprawl and land coming out of the Conservation Reserve Program, among other things.

The National Ag Statistics Service developed both Vegscape and CropScape with the help of George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.

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