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NASA At Your Table: The Space Agency’s Surprising Role in Agriculture

Everybody needs to eat.

Food is a basic necessity, and it is at the heart of every human culture and our sense of home. It also represents one of our most important connections to Earth. Crops and animal products, whether gathered from the ocean or the land, raised on farms big and small, across vast fields or in our backyards and urban communities, draw on sunlight, water and soil to grow and thrive.

Producing food has always been challenging, and in the 21st century, human-caused climate change is already affecting food security through increasing temperatures, the frequency of extreme events and changing precipitation patterns. This is increasing the risk of food supply disruptions by shifting growing and pastoral zones, reducing water access and food yield—all of which contribute to the changing landscape of our food and water supply.

In addition, more than 800 million people suffer from chronic hunger worldwide. By 2050, the global population is estimated to grow to 10 billion people. As the population—and the demand for food—continues to expand, we need innovative ways to feed the world.                

That’s where NASA Earth science data comes in. 

In the satellite era, Earth observing data has increasingly become part of the food farming process. With observations from space and aircraft, combined with high-end computer modeling, NASA scientists work with partner agencies, organizations, farmers, ranchers, fishermen, and decision makers to share our understanding of the relationship between the Earth system and the environments that provide us food.

Working with local communities and decision makers to determine their needs and how they can best use Earth observation data, NASA supports those who address issues like water management for irrigation, crop-type identification and land use, coastal and lake water quality monitoring, drought preparedness, and famine early warnings. 

Montage of four images of agriculture with white satellite and corn graphic outlines over the top.
Farmers, ranchers, fishers, water resource managers, partner government agencies and other decision-makers around the world use NASA Earth observation data to provide better food security, develop irrigation plans, identify crops and monitor droughts.
Credits: NASA/Jesse Kirsch

Over the next several weeks, we’ll be sharing the stories of people in the United States and abroad on how they use NASA data such as

·      How they apply NASA science to help plan for and make it through growing seasons in the face of drought and water shortages.

·      How Earth science data helps them develop more sustainable farming and aquaculture practices.

·      How partner organizations, such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture, use NASA data to achieve their goals in maintaining and monitoring crops and commodities worldwide.

In addition, we will dive into the science that makes all this possible, showcase current and future satellite missions that collect this essential data and look forward to the launch of the ninth Landsat mission, a joint mission with the U.S. Geological Survey. The Landsat program has an unparalleled record of nearly 50 years of continuous Earth observations and is one of the essential satellites delivering data for agriculture.

Landsat 9 together with other NASA Earth science missions, partner agencies, and the next-generation missions of NASA’s Earth System Observatory, will provide a backbone of crucial Earth science information over the next decade. These missions will gather information on Earth’s systems from above our heads, to under our feet; the atmosphere, water, land surface, soil moisture, and groundwater beneath Earth’s surface. This data and the research that will improve our understanding of how these different parts of the environment interact and work as a system, will help communities and decision makers at all levels strengthen climate resilience and adaptation of the farming systems across all dimensions of food security – availability, access, stability, and utilization.

Snacktime with NASA:




Where to Access Data

By Ellen Gray
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center