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Check your crops online

Purchase 200-acre photos of your farm from the EarthScan Web site.

After a hailstorm hit his farm near Manning, IA, Dave Kusel figured his crops were recovering as quickly as his neighbors' crops. But a new satellite image he pulled off the Internet showed he was wrong. The image revealed that the heavy hail damage was isolated in his own fields.

Impressed with this information, Kusel says satellite imaging should help him spot other problems. It will also help him be more aware of what is happening with neighboring fields.

During the next growing season, he plans to download the images into precision farming programs to make management decisions. "It is another tool," he confirms.

Coming of age. After many years of talk, satellite imaging is finally coming of age for agriculture.

Several companies are racing to provide more and better satellite images to farmers. Among them is EarthScan, a joint venture between Data Transmis-sion Network (DTN) and a longtime satellite imaging company, Photon Research Associates. Both companies are equal partners in EarthScan.

EarthScan recently announced an enhancement to its satellite imaging services. All farmers may log onto its Web site, www.earthscannetwork. com, and download an image of their farmland taken from space. Use of newer satellites will make the images sharper than in the past, with resolutions as high as 2 sq. meters.

Last summer, EarthScan tested the concept of using a Web site to reach farmers. It concentrated on one Nebraska county and offered four satellite images throughout the growing season for $160. It also offered other satellite images taken randomly in the Corn Belt. Kusel found his farm on one of those random shots and paid $40 for a three-year, unlimited use of it.

More satellite service. This same service now extends to all farmers. This year EarthScan plans to offer more frequent images. The company will use images from several sophisticated satellites, in-cluding IKONOS, the latest commercial satellite put in orbit last fall. Completing a new orbit every 98 min., the IKONOS satellite should roll over the Midwest at least once every day. Farmers won't need to wait days for clear skies and a proper orbit for a satellite to beam an image home.

IKONOS boasts a specially built Kodak camera. The camera's mirror is free of optical distortions: If the mirror were enlarged to 100 miles in diameter, its largest bump would be no higher than 0.08 in. The images are so detailed that photo analysts can distinguish a car from a truck. Interpretation tools. EarthScan offers several interactive tools to help farmers read and understand the images. One is a measuring tool to accurately determine the acreage of all fields, including irregular sizes, for correct seed and chemical needs. Another tool is color overlays to show variations in the field and relative vigor of the crop.

Farmers also may download an image into their own computers and convert it to a map for variable rate application through GPS.

A photo showing 200 acres may be purchased. Once purchased, the image is accessible on the Web site to the farmer for three years. Every-thing needed to view the images is on the browser so farmers do not need to download extra software.

Farmers who do not have access to the Internet may obtain the images through services such as those offered by a crop consultant, who will also help interpret the images.

Although satellite imaging may not have reached the detail depicted in James Bond movies, agricultural imaging is nearing its own legendary levels. And the future holds only continued improvements. More satellites will be launched this year. And soon, image resolution will be as high as 2 sq. ft. EarthScan says these improvements may lead to lower prices.

For more information, contact EarthScan, Dept. FIN, 9110 W. Dodge Rd., Suite 200, Omaha, NE 68114, 800/850-5387.

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