Geospatial Applications in Agriculture and Global Food Security: An NGA and USDA Project Success

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Cropped image of a map of Slovenia

Figure showing three succesively zoomed-in sat images.By Dr. Shawana P. Johnson, GISP

President, Global Marketing Insights, Inc.


The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency GeoINT Online Communities website focuses on Global Food Security. Through this site ‰ÛÏdecentralized individuals‰Û (who are not part of NGA) have the ability to input into the system to showcase specific joint approved projects with NGA. GEOINT Online (GO) is a website that is unifying existing NGA web-based capabilities for online, on-demand discovery of and access to geospatial intelligence (GEOINT) content, services, expertise, and support. This article provides an overview of community site content, an overview of project content and the way in which the site was developed and is hosted, and the successful results of one project to avert famine in Iraq.

Famine Averted

During the 2007‰ÛÒ08 growing season, the Iraqi Ministry of Agriculture received an ‰ÛÏearly warning alert‰Û that wheat and small grain farms were in trouble in the country’s normally plentiful northern region when a partnership between NGA and the United States Department of Agriculture detected an impending drought early enough for Iraqi government officials to avert a famine by arranging for food shipments to the affected areas. The joint project successfully developed new remote sensing techniques for assessing crop health and predicting harvest yields in growing regions where the adequate ground condition information was lacking. The success of this project allowed for a project expansion this year and now includes Iran, Syria, and Afghanistan.

Satellite image of Iraq showing land use change over nine years One reason the United States closely monitors international crop health is that a stable food supply is critical to the overall security of a nation. USDA evaluates and publishes information in its forecast of supply and demand for U.S. and global crops. USDA makes its production forecasts based on a convergence of evidence methodology, which involves volumes of structured and unstructured information, including low- and medium-resolution multispectral satellite imagery as well as meteorological data. This remotely sensed information is usually supplemented by reports from experienced observers located throughout the growing regions being monitored. However, in many locations, ground observers do not exist. As an alternative, NGA provided high-resolution imagery to the USDA hoping to fill the information gap with low and mid-resolution satellite imagery.

Multiple Satellite Sensors Integration for Remote Analysis

NGA utilizes national remote sensing resources and commercial high-resolution satellite imagery from commercial vendors, such as Digital Globe and GeoEye. The USDA relies on low-resolution data from the NASA Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) sensor and other systems including medium-resolution imagery from Landsat and the Indian Advanced Wide Field Sensor (AWiFS).

Figure showing four images documenting crop abundance changes over the years.The coarse-resolution MODIS data provides precipitation information and vegetative abundance. With its large swath and quick revisit period, entire countries can be imaged frequently. The comparison of MODIS indices in the NASA archive from one year to the next in Iraq showed much lower vegetative yields.

The next step in the process was to utilize AWiFS imagery from the Indian Resourcesat-1 satellite (which includes multispectral bands, 56-meter spatial resolution, 740-kilometer-wide swath, and a 5 day revisit period) for closer observation of wheat and grain producing areas. AWiFS sensor characteristics are ideal to monitor large area agricultural conditions. The AWIFS images indices demonstrated that the biomass growth was lower than that of previous years. In addition, mid-resolution images of Landsat and AWIFS were compared through change detection and also demonstrated major changes in crop yield in the northern province of Iraq.

Once the coarse and mid-resolution imagery demonstrated pending crop production shortages, a field or ground observer was needed to validate the findings. NGA instead provided high-resolution commercial satellite imagery acquired by DigitalGlobe’s QuickBird satellite as a surrogate for the ground observation data. The 2.5-meter resolution QuickBird images were captured at five different times during the growing season. This high-resolution multispectral imagery provided details into what was happening in each field. The imagery differentiated wheat from other crops and revealed whether the fields were being currently farmed. The QuickBird and AWiFS images which were acquired at about the same time were combined to demonstrate a sequence of crop growth.

Image of multi-temporal change over Iraq.It quickly became clear through continued monitoring that future wheat and grain yields from Northern Iraq fields were well below normal. This information was disseminated to U.S. and Iraqi officials in order to avert a food shortage disaster.

Project Success Led to the Invitation to be part of GEOINT ONLINE

NGA and USDA considered the pilot a success and NGA continued the project into the 2008‰ÛÒ09 and 2009-2010 growing seasons with expanded activities. The project has developed many new remote sensing product techniques from cloud free mosaics to seasonality products utilized in conjunction with weather data for further drought information. The project is now featured on GEOINT Online. NGA provides GEOINT Online (GO) which unifies existing NGA web-based capabilities for online, on-demand discovery of and access to geospatial intelligence (GEOINT) content, services, expertise, and support. This website hosts a ‰ÛÏCOMMUNITY SITE‰Û where the Global Food Security Project is located with all of its project reports and data. These reports, which are for official use and classified, feature the maps and data representing the use of Coarse, Medium and High Resolution imagery from a variety of sources. Global Marketing Insights, Inc. (, created this site interface in the form of an Interactive Google Map on the GEOINT Online ( website to illustrate the results of the Global Food Monitoring Effort by country. The GEOINT Online site provides official access to existing NGA web-based capabilities for on-demand discovery of geospatial intelligence.

Image of multi temporal imaging analysis between 2005 and 2007.The Agricultural Monitoring page offers users a map interface that demonstrates how the combination of multi-resolution satellite imagery data provided early warning of the coming drought in Iraq and its impact on crops. Other related agricultural products and crop analysis data are added to the site regularly. Access to the Operational Agricultural Monitoring Project‰Û on GEOINT Online, is restricted to official users only. For instructions, go to


The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency GeoINT Online Communities (NGA) website is focused on Global Food Security and allows online, on-demand discovery of and access to geospatial intelligence (GEOINT) content, services, expertise, and support. It evolved from a food shortage crisis in Iraq during the 2007‰ÛÒ08 growing season, and the partnership between NGA and the United States Department of Agriculture detected an impending drought early enough for Iraqi government officials to avert a famine.

would like to thank NGA, USDA (especially Mr. Robert Tetrault ‰ÛÒ Project Manager), GCS Research, Inc. and Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, Kevin Corbley of Corbley Communications and the satellite data providers for their role in the development of this paper.

Screen shot of Geoint onlineReferences

Data Sharing Partnerships Session Moderator, ‰ÛÏSuccessful Inter and Intra Agency Partnerships with the USDA and NGA‰Û; ASPRS, San Diego, CA April 29th, 2010.

‰ÛMiddle East Operational Agricultural Monitoring Project ‰ÛÒ USDA and NGA‰Û. JACIE, Joint Agency for Commercial Imagery Evaluation, Fairfax, VA, March 16th, 2010.

‰ÛÏGlobal Remote Sensing Market Research Availability‰Û joint presentation with the USDA FAS, Robert Tetrault, Satellite Imagery Archive Manager, ‰ÛÏCommercial Imagery Availability Global- Operational Usage‰Û, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, Commercial Community Imagery Forum, August 4th, 2009.

‰ÛÏSupporting Analysis of Agricultural with Imagery‰Û, Presentation with GDA Corp., ESRI International User Conference, San Diego, CA, July 14th, 2009.

‰ÛÏUSDA and National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency ‰ÛÒeGEOINT website featuring Iraq Agricultural Monitoring Project‰Û, ESRI International User Conference ‰ÛÒ Lightning Talk, July 13th, 2009

Author Information

Dr. Shawana P. Johnson has been president of Global Marketing Insights, Inc. (GMI) since 1997. With over 20 years of experience in working directly in the space and remote sensing profession, with the USDA, and with agricultural and defense applications she leads GMI in being an industry leader in providing global Geospatial Business Intelligence Experts‰ã¢ to both the public and private sectors. Dr. Johnson is also part of the Peer Review Committees for the GEOSS Call for Papers 2009 and 2010 for the Agriculture and Water Calls which are two of the nine SBA’s for GEOSS.

Global Marketing Insights, Inc. provides Space and Geospatial Business Intelligence‰ã¢ experts who provide commercial and government clients with geospatial strategic plans, marketing services and market research based on the largest copyrighted international remote sensing database, focused on aerial and spaceborne imagery, in the world. During IGARSS 2010, Global Marketing Insights, Inc. provided a project overview of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency GeoINT Online Communities website focused on Global Food Security. For questions contact Dr. Shawana P. Johnson, or Sherry Loy at Global Marketing Insights, Inc.: or call 216-525-0600 begin_of_the_skype_highlightingåÊåÊåÊåÊåÊåÊåÊåÊåÊåÊåÊåÊåÊåÊ216-525-0600åÊåÊåÊåÊåÊåÊend_of_the_skype_highlighting begin_of_the_skype_highlightingåÊåÊåÊåÊåÊåÊåÊåÊåÊåÊåÊåÊåÊåÊ216-525-0600åÊåÊåÊåÊåÊåÊend_of_the_skype_highlighting.

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