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What satellites can see

Can satellites see what people can’t? The answer to that question could become clear as soon as this Friday when USDA’s October estimate of crop production is compared to a crop production report released yesterday that is based on satellite imagery.

The company using the technology, Lanworth Inc., issued its October production estimates for 2007 U.S. corn and soybean production on Oct. 8 and predicted that both crops will have lower yields than USDA reported in September.

The Lanworth estimate pegs 2007 U.S. corn production at 13.11 billion bushels, 200 million bushels less than USDA’s September estimate of 13.31 billion bushels. The record-setting figure is 25 percent higher than the 10.5 billion bushels produced in 2006. Differences between the Lanworth and USDA estimates are concentrated in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Tennessee, and Ohio.

Lanworth projects 2007 soybean production at 2.58 billion bushels, 1.4 percent lower than the 2.62 billion bushels estimated by the USDA in September report and 19 percent lower than the 3.19 billion bushels produced in 2006. The largest differences between Lanworth and USDA estimates are in Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee.

In addition to satellite imagery, Lanworth used soil and weather data, crop growth models and extensive field checks to project that localized drought conditions and variability in planting dates have limited the yield potential of the U.S. corn and soybean crops.

“We expect USDA to lower its production estimates as yield problems become evident in the harvest,” said Nick Kouchoukos, director of Information Services for Lanworth. “Lower estimates from USDA could come as early as the Oct. 12 crop production report, but are more likely to appear in the November report.”

Prior to Monday, Lanworth production estimates had been available only through subscription.


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