Bettering the Way We Assess Crop Yields Proves Critical for Billion-Dollar Agriculture Industry

ARS crop

Dr. Paul Doraiswamy of the Agricultural Research Service was the lead scientist for several competitive USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS)-funded projects for the development of a robust technology to assess real-time crop progress, its condition during the season, tracking accumulative effects of water deficit conditions and to predict yields prior to crop maturity.

The target area for the use of such innovation is the U.S. corn belt, where 90% of the corn and soybean crops are cultivated under rain-fed conditions.

The regional assessment is accomplished by scaling up local assessment crop responses to county and state yield estimates.

Accurate and timely monitoring of agricultural crop conditions and estimating potential crop yields are essential for the operational programs of the USDA.

Assessment of decreased production caused by a natural disaster, such as drought, floods, or pest infestation, can be critical for areas where the economy is dependent on the crop harvest.

Early assessment of yield reductions could avert a disastrous situation and help in strategic planning to meet demands.

Currently, NASS acquires crop yield indications via ground-based sample surveys (objective plant and fruit counts and farmer reports), which are collectively used in its decision support system to assess weekly crop progress, monthly crop yield estimates for each state and the U.S., and annual county yield estimates.

The technology developed by Dr. Doraiswamy builds yield estimates from field to regional scales by accounting for every field that is observable at the satellite resolution (250 meters), and it is designed to supplement and potentially replace much of the labor-intensive NASS ground-based surveys.

The total planted area for corn in he U.S. is 86.6 million acres and 77.5 million acres for soybean. The monetary value of crop yield production is about $45.5 billion for corn and $33.03 billion for soybean.

Hence, a technology that can provide real-time assessment of changes in corn and soybean yields at regional scales is critical for predicting commodity prices and potential economic impacts on farmers/producers and consumers.

The significant impact of this technology not only allows for spatial assessment of real-time changes in crop yields, but also provides estimates several months prior to NASS’s final state estimates made in January and final county estimate made in March of the following year after harvest.

This technology has been operational for the past two years at the NASS facility in Fairfax, Va. The development of this tool was achieved with financial support from ARS, NASA and the NASS, which funded a research support staff given the multidisciplinary nature of this technology.