The Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Remote Sensing and Modeling Laboratory evaluated procedures to map crop conditions and worked to develop a sensor to measure crop residue cover. The ARS Hydrology Laboratory conducted the Southern Great Plains Hydrology Experiment to design and develop a system to measure global surface soil moisture and its influence on the atmosphere. It also conducted an experiment at the Jornada Experimental Range and the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico to determine the effect of scale on landscape measurements of heat and energy fluxes. The ARS Conservation Laboratory in Phoenix, Arizona, used remote sensing to derive information from the spectral properties of vegetation canopies. The Remote Sensing Research Unit (RSRU) at Weslaco, Texas, continued work on a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement to design and calibrate a digital video imaging system to assess natural resources. Working with EPA, RSRU continued to evaluate a digital imaging video system to aid farmers.
The Foreign Agricultural Service's (FAS) satellite remote-sensing program remained a critical element in USDA's analysis of global agricultural production and crop conditions by providing timely, accurate, and unbiased estimates of global area, yield, and production. Satellite-derived early warning of unusual crop conditions and production enabled more rapid and precise determinations of global supply conditions. FAS used NOAA, AVHRR, Landsat, IRS, and SPOT imagery, crop models, weather data, attaché reports, field travel, and ancillary data to forecast foreign grain, oilseed, and cotton production. FAS remote sensing supported Department of State assessments of food needs in the former Soviet Union, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and North Korea. Also, FAS prepared detailed analyses of the U.S. northern Great Plains snowpack/flooding, El Niño, and flooding in Eastern Europe.
The Farm Service Agency (FSA), which funded the FAS analysis of imagery, received timely reports on U.S. crop conditions from FAS. These imagery-based reports, combined with weather data, crop model results, and GIS products, made possible the development of accurate and timely projections and comprehensive evaluations of crop disaster situations. FSA continued to be a partner in the National Aerial Photography Program (NAPP) and National Digital Orthophoto Program (NDOP). FSA also fielded geometric, distortion-free photographs created from Russian KVR-1000 imagery of Hawaii.
The Forest Service used a wide range of remotely sensed data to manage the 191 million acres of land in the National Forest System. To improve forest management planning, the Forest Service, with NASA's support, collected high-altitude aerial photography over the two largest national forests in the United Statesthe Tongass and Chugach National Forests in Alaska. To improve wildland fire management, the Forest Service also worked with NASA by participating in an interagency workshop on monitoring wildland fires from space.
The National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) used remote-sensing data to construct area frames for statistical sampling, to estimate crop area, to create crop-specific land-cover data layers for GIS, and to assess crop conditions. For area frame construction, NASS combined digital Landsat and SPOT data with USGS digital line-graph data, enabling the user to assign each piece of land in a State to a category, based on the percentage of cultivation or other variables. NASS personnel implemented new remote-sensing-based area frames and samples for Delaware, Maryland, and New Jersey. The remote-sensing acreage estimation project analyzed Landsat data of the 1996 crop season in Arkansas and then collected 1997 crop season data for Arkansas, North Dakota, and South Dakota. End-of-season TM analysis produced crop acreage estimates for major crops at State and county levels plus a crop-specific categorization usable for digital GIS analysis. In addition to conventional survey data, vegetation condition images based on AVHRR data helped assess crop conditions.
The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) continued its partnership with Federal and State agencies in sharing costs to develop 1-meter digital orthophotography coverage through the NDOP. At the end of FY 1997, 67 percent of the Nation's digital orthophotography maps were either complete or in progress. NRCS continued to use digital orthophotography coverage as a basemap for all GIS and program mapping activities. NRCS cooperated with DoD on the purchase of GPS precise positioning service receivers and increased its use of GPS in daily field operations.