Satellites Track Status of Nation's Food Supply
Have you ever wondered. How much food is growing right now? Across the globe. Satellite data is for the first time giving us nearly real time data. Uh on which trump's are being planted which crops might fail because of climate impacts like drought or disease and how many because of rain for us to being cut down for grazing land. Using this information we can better path famines reduced price volatility and work out how to feed a planet of nine billion people by twenty fifty. That's a WHO small undertaking and it will have huge impacts on everything from water usage to soil health to help us. Navigate is fascinating new science. I sit down with Dr Inbound. Becca Russia the director of NASA's food security and agricultural programmes. Dr Becca Russia is also the CO director of the center of Global Global Agriculture Monitoring Research and the University of Maryland in bow was rented by the US State Department for her work on food security and Technologies winning being the US Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Science Prize Innovation Research and education awarded by the White House's John Holdren the former assistant listen to president. Obama for Science and technology in bows background does in soil scientists in remote sensing and she received a PhD in Geographical Sciences. His from the University of Maryland in bows one of the world's leading experts on using remote sensing for global crop forecasting in addition to being achieved the balance. My cousin and one of my favorite people ever in Bell and her husband Dr Guido Portillo a molecular physicists. have to amazing daughters Natalie and I need it. I caught up with him about last week in Tel Aviv. which is where she was born? Yes born in Israel shortly after moved to the states until I was five and then came back from age five to eleven then moved to Kenya and then moved to the states in one sense cents. I feel very much like an outsider. In a very in another sense I feel very much home like I never left. And it's the first time I bring my two daughters here which is quite emotional for me for to have them here. Seeing where I grew up and a big part of my life and who I am so do you speak Hebrew with them in bow I do. I speak Hebrew with them and so for them. I think it's been An interesting experience to come to a country where everybody speaks what we speak at home and usually nobody else speak so kind of our secret language. So it's been fun to to see them connect and in some way feel very much also that this is part of of who they are two and what things you miss the most about Israel the sun in the winter having twenty degrees in January or end of December the familiarity of people and kind of the directness of people. Anything I missed that I also kind of get confronted with it and in other ways my friends really good friends. Family food vegetables fruit the so Tokyo food food in battle. One of your your light. One of the leading experts in the world on remote sensing in crop prediction. Why full you is is crop and food security such a big issue on a planet which currently has seven and a half billion people on it food security is probably one of the biggest challenges we face in this coming century today day? There's over eight hundred twenty million people food insecure around the world. That number is on the rise again. Due to several reasons one is increasing populations and increasing in demand on meet another big driver's been climate extremes and large droughts as we look forward and and different forecasts predict that we need to increase our food production fifty percent by twenty fifty and there's some variability around that number. But I think some of what's been driving that is one increasing populations to increasing middle middle classes in places like India and China which means there's a much bigger demand for meat. And if you think about the amount of food you need to produce meat versus Vegetarian anti at that obviously has big demands. It's quite an alarming trend and at the same time. Obviously there's a lot of technologies and changes in terms of our production. What we need to do is to be able to increase our food production on the same amount of land? There's not a lot more land that we can really bring into cultivation to meet that demand so that's pretty alarming like increasing food supply by fifty percent by two thousand fifty which is only now thirty years away with how growing the amount of land. How are we going to do that? Part of it is increasing increasing. The intensity of of our captivation of it has to do with the technology of seeds. And I think we're continuing to see increases in yields are low. Not as fast as that was in the past. Some of the big increases we're seeing today is from increasing the number of seasons since I think if you look at Brazil for example with two mays seasons. That's increased tremendously the amount of food. That's being being produced looking at different varieties and more whether it's drought resistant varieties. That's going to get as part of the way there at least to your specialty is helping countries knit together. Analyses of determining what the future food production season is going to look like. Why is that important to know a lot of what I do and try to understand what food production is GONNA be for this current season as it's developing and that's really important because today our world is it's very much globalized interconnected? So what's the quantity of of wheat that's going to be grown in. Russia has an impact not only in Russia but it really has a global impact. Let's really important taft. Transparent information to have global information of how much food is being produced at at any given time that has an impact on how a government decides to to plan their actions. I am policies. It has an impact on humanitarian organisations and trying to forecast where there might be food shortages. And how do you mobilize as soon as possible. and has obviously a big the impact on markets and international food prices given the importance of all that. How did we use to track? Whether it's a country that has a system of farmers. There's reporting everything that they grow in tracking it that way. Various statistical surveys to make sure that there's a statistical representation to that and obviously some countries do a better job at that in a better accuracy and timeliness than other countries. Do I mean the start of satellite monitoring for agriculture. Goes back nearly as early as satellite. Remote Sensing doesn't in general in the seventies and how the US got involved in. This was a big drought in Russia. One of the big wheat production next countries at the time of USSR the US wasn't aware of that drown in that impact and in what ended up happening is the US sold. We'd at subsidized prices. Essentially and then had to fight back in the international markets at much higher prices because there was was a shortage who was I did at Sparta Program at the time that Usda and NASA had together called Lacey and the objective of that really was to try to monitor what was going on outside of the US in the major food production especially we at the time we in corn production and the idea was that satellites were really the only way ah the US could look at other countries in the world getting a sense of what they were producing. And if you look today at what. The vision is for Satellite Remote Sensing and agriculture. It's not all that different. Then when it was over forty years ago. What is different? Today is our capability to finally reach that goal. So you had this vision forty years ago being able to know what another country's crop would yield like what change in satellite so that we now actually have that granular level detail to be able to know with better accuracy. So few do things. One is the quality of satellite data itself the frequency the resolution and resolution. If you think about it is what objects you can discern on the ground from a pixel which is how we look at the imagery. It's the satellite data being open and free at at multiple resolution. New satellites that have come into play both from the European side. Something called the sentinels which today imaging the world at ten meter resolution close to every three to five days which is looked along with land sat satellite for example from the. US giving US close to every three days view the world. So where would you say ten meters just to break it down to that. Means every pick cell is ten meters. That's right it's ten by ten meter resolution. So that means you can can discern quite a lot and if you think about looking at the whole world at ten meter resolution. That's a huge amount of information. And so we've had huge advances in terms of the satellite data also commercial satellite and a lot of cubesats that are going into space which are now giving us close to daily data three-meter resolution and then our compute power to be able to process that kind of imagery and advances in modeling and computational technologies to really be able to utilize that data has been a huge revolution in terms of what we're able to do so go all these lights. NEW ONES IS ACCU- ones. Those are like really teeny little satellites. That are going out. That's right. So they're often termed as shoebox size satellites. They have been sending up in in fleet so I think today. They're close to four hundred or more earth-observing satellites that are called cubesats so the data quality is not as high. They don't have as many spectral bands for example as as some of the other satellites but they're cheap to send up and they've also revolutionized the space of commercial satellite. So those aren't free. They're much more affordable than than they would have been in the past. What are you looking for right? So we're trying to basically look at signals us of crops so one of the things we're trying to understand is where are the crops of the world being grown and there's still huge certainty around that one would think that we would know that very well and And there's still a lot of room for us to improve that second of all is which crops are being grown wear and if you think about it every year that's changing so there's a lot lot of crop rotations and so what that really means you want to be able ideally to know what's being grown in each field during the growing season so that's one of the the big objectives is to be able to classify Within the season where things are being grown to be able to both discern how much of an area is being grown. That's one part of the production equation and the other side is what the yield is going to be and so what we WANNA do. It's really important to have time series of data to look at it through time to look at the volition of the development of crops. But but when you said earlier that we don't actually know where food is being grown. What does that mean if you think about it as a map of where the the world's croplands we have several of those maps but we're trying to continuously increase the accuracy of that? And if you think about crop expansion or changes in where croplands are for example title Brazil and and huge expansion of croplands. There is really important to be able to update that as frequently as possible in particular in in areas where there is a lot of change and we still need better information on where the global croplands are and then more specifically within season a crop type maps.