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Farming from space - satellites take on new role in food production

Wednesday, February 08, 2012 - 02:33

Feb. 8 - Israeli scientists have developed a small-scale method of analyzing microclimates using satellite images, to improve prospects for better farming. The researchers say the system could boost yields and ultimately increase the food supply world-wide. Jim Drury reports.

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Farm labourers at work in Israel, a largely arid, desert land. Against the odds the country has a highly developed agriculture sector. And things could be about to improve further, with the help of NASA satellite data. Hebrew University climatologist Uri Dayan has pioneered a system in which satellite images help farmers detect small-scale changes in climate - and ultimately improve their harvests. SOUNDBITE (English) PROFESSOR URI DAYAN FROM THE DEPARTMENT OF GEOGRAPHY IN THE HEBREW UNIVERSITY OF JERUSALEM, SAYING: "We came to the conclusion that the existing sites measuring temperature for example are by far not enough to get this kind of information. Therefore, we decided to use NASA data, from satellites, in order to get some information on the temperature of the terrain." Scientists have divided fields into small 'microclimates' determined by differences in temperature data transmitted by NASA's orbiting Terra satellite. This will help farmers judge when to plant seeds and spray pesticides, and which crop is most suitable for each square-kilometre field. Co-developer Itamar Lensky heads the remote sensing laboratory at Bar Ilan University. He's taken a mathematical approach to analysing the data. SOUNDBITE (English) DOCTOR ITAMAR LENSKY FROM THE DEPARTMENT OF GEOGRAPHY AND ENVIRONMENT IN BAR ILAN UNIVERSITY SAYING: "Basically, what we understand, how nature works - we pack it into an algorithm and this is what...and the results of this algorithm we can give it to the farmers." Crops are sensitive to the environment. The slightest change can ruin a harvest. Factors like pests, pathogens and weeds kill 40 percent of the world's food supply, according to the U.N. But what do the farmers think of adding satellites to their agricultural toolkit? Gideon Yisrael has worked the fields of central Israel all his adult life. SOUNDBITE (Hebrew) FARMER GIDEON YISRAEL SAYING: "It will be a dream come true. I've been working as a farmer for 40 years, I have a lot of agricultural experience. It will provide farmers with a good measurement for making good decisions and hopefully bring them more success in farming." Once the scientists find a development partner, a global interface to guide farmers could be produced within a couple of years. With world population growing fast, new scientific methods could be vital to stave off mass hunger. Dayan and Lensky believe their microclimatic research will give policymakers food for thought. Jim Drury, Reuters

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Farming from space - satellites take on new role in food production

Wednesday, February 08, 2012 - 02:33