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The National Agriculture Imagery Program

naip.jpgModern agriculture is caught on an industrial treadmill that has polluted waterways, degraded soils, and devastated family farms. Agriculture, however, has begun the transition from an industrial to an information age, opening the door for a more sustainable system. The National Agriculture Imagery Program is a harbinger of this transition.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture doles out billions of dollars in farm subsidies each year. In 2005 these subsidies topped $25 billion, yet the USDA verifies the eligibility of only a handful of the 500,000 farms that receive them. Officers can't visit every farm in person, but they can check them from the air.

NAIP isn't the first attempt to image agriculture -- the USDA has employed aerial photography since 1936 -- but it is the most comprehensive. Although the program has been active since 2002, only in the last couple of years has it gained national coverage. Each summer at the height of the growing season private contractors fly planes equipped with state-of-the-art sensors to capture high-resolution (~1-2 meter) images. Flights start in April in the south, and gradually move northwards until the final flights of the season in August.

Local enforcement officers can then make sure that the farms in the images match the farms on paper. Closer surveillance of subsidies will more than likely cover NAIP's $30 million budget. Efficient enforcement of a horribly perverse subsidy system, however, is hardly worldchanging. But the ancillary benefits are--or, more accurately, could be if done right.

NAIP has huge on-farm potential beyond keeping closer tabs on farmers. Take precision agriculture. Infrared imagery enables farmers to identify stressed crops. NAIP therefore allows farmers to irrigate and fertilize optimally, thereby increasing revenues while reducing resource consumption and pollution. Currently Texas is the only state to image in both visible and infrared wavelengths, but more states may soon follow. Other farm benefits include erosion control and reductions in fertilizer runoff from land near waterways.

The off-farm potential is compelling too since NAIP captures everything, farmland or not. The images are often the most recent -- and even the only -- high-resolution data available, making them particularly valuable for nasty surprises. Disaster response fits the bill perfectly. In fact, when the responders to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita needed images of the disaster zones they turned to the NAIP.

The question of whether NAIP will be made public is still open. There are tenuous plans to incorporate the imagery into the National Map. But will extending Big Brother's information to millions of Little Brothers and Little Sisters alleviate or exacerbate privacy and security concerns? High-resolution imagery that opens a window not only onto your neighbor's back yard but every back yard in the country can set off alarm bells. At the same time, publicly available information can foster creativity that we can scarcely foresee.

Global mapping applications like Google Earth and NASA Worldwind have built the infrastructure to house the data, and with public availability we could start to see agricultural mashups pointing out creative stewardship or even citizens documenting the ills of irresponsible farmers. The mashups that have emerged from Google Maps thus far are just the beginning of what we will see in the future given the combination of freely available data, human ingenuity and peer production networks.

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Comments

NASA has done considerable research in remote sensing for agriculture applications. For a good tutorial on remote sensing, check out http://rst.gsfc.nasa.gov/


Posted by: Mike Tierney on 7 Sep 06

I AM IN THE PROCESS OF DEVISING A NEW DEVELOPMENT PARAGIGM FOR ESSENTIAL HOUSING IN THE URBAN CORES AND IN THE RURAL RINGS AROUND SUBURBAN SPRAW.

CAN I GAIN ACCESS TO THE DEMOGRAPHIC AND AGRICULTURAL INFORMATION GLEANED FROM THE GIS DATABASE OF THE DAIP TO USE FOR INDIRECTLY TARGETING FAILING FAMILY FARMERS (BY GEOGRAPHY AND TITLE) AND TAPPING THEM FOR CO-DEVELOPMENT PARTNERS FOR NON-SPEC-PROFIT DEVELOPMENT OF SUSTAINABLE RURAL COMMUNITIES OF ESSENTIAL HOMESTEADS THAT WOULD ABSORB SUBURBAN DEVELOPMENT SPRAWL AND ENABLE THE CONTINUATION OF FAMILY FARMING AND HERITAGE BY CREATING PARTNERS IN INTEGRATED, CO-DEPENDENT HYBRIDS OF ORGANIC MICRO-FARMS AND ESSENTIAL, SUSTAINABLE SUB-RURAL HOUSING THAT WOULD PUT THE FARMER IN CONTROL(WITH FINANCIAL BENIFIT) OF DEVELOPMENT AND MAINTENANCE OF BOTH THE MICRO-AGRICULTURAL FOOD PRODUCTION, AND THE SUSTAINABLE LAND MANAGEMENT THAT WOULD INCLUDE THE HOA COOPS OF THE LOW RISE, HIGH DENSITY HOUSING INFRASRUCTURE SURROUNDING THE MICRO-RFARMS, THUS HYDROLOGY, WASTE RECLAIMATION, RECYCLING AND NATURAL OPEN SPACE, AND THE BUILT ENVIORNMENT OPERATING IN A CRADLE-TO CRADLE SYSTEM OF NATURAL CAPITALISM AND HEALTHY HAPPY LIVING ENVIORNMENTS.

I AM GOING TO THE USDA WEB SITE. ANY SUGGESTIONS FOR ANY ORGANIZATIONS THAT ARE ALREADY DIGESTING THE DEMOGRAPHICS OF THE IMAGRY PROGRAM FOR THE USE OF IMPROVED DEVELOPMENT, LIKE THE AMERICAN COMMUNIT SURVEY IS DIGESTING THE CENSUS DATA FOR AFFORDABEL HOUSING?


Posted by: J. Peter Holsman on 7 Sep 06

How do I find the bios to contact one of you, as mentioned on your "about us" page??? someone to


Posted by: J. Peter Holsman on 7 Sep 06

I am in the primitive stages of writing a legal seminar paper about the NAIP and programs like it. I am interested in the privacy aspect. I am looking for cases or complaints of invasion of privacy etc. against the NAIP or other programs/organizations like it. Any help would be appreciated.


Posted by: John on 13 Sep 06



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