Agriculture Research Service Scientists are investigating the possibility of using satellite imagery to determine how much water farmers should add to their crops through irrigation. If they can find the right calculation tool then farmers could reduce the risk of over irrigating a crop. Excessive irrigation can lead to leaching of fertilizer and other potential pollutants into underground water supplies.
According to agricultural engineer Thomas Trout, satellite imagery of farmers' fields could be analyzed by computers to estimate crop canopy cover. Growers could visit a website to get those measurements for their fields. The figure, along with a few other pieces of information, such as locally relevant weather, could then be added to a standard equation to calculate the amount of water used and the amount now needed for each field.
The calculation could indicate, for example, that bell pepper plants in a field that has a canopy cover of 40% may have used one inch of water in one week, the amount the grower may choose to replenish at the next irrigation.