National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service (NESDIS)



NOAA Satellite Data Aids the Nation’s Agricultural Forecasts

Friday, April 8, 2016

It’s no secret that NOAA satellites play a vital role in generating weather forecasts, but did you know that they’re just as important to the development of the USDA’s agricultural  forecasts?

GOES infrared imagery of storms over Texas
This GOES satellite image from the March 15 issue of the Weekly weather and Crop Bulletin shows the storm system that brought historic rainfall totals to the central Gulf Coast starting on March 8, 2016.

It’s no secret that NOAA satellites play a vital role in generating weather forecasts, but did you know that they’re just as important to the development of the USDA’s agricultural  forecasts?

For decades, NOAA and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) have been working together to help farmers and livestock producers prepare for and respond to changing weather and climatic conditions. In fact, the two agencies formalized their working relationship in 1978 with the creation of the Joint Agricultural Weather Facility (JAWF).

Managed jointly by the World Agricultural Outlook Board (WAOB), a division of the USDA’s Office of the Chief Economist, and NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, the JAWF was created to:

  • Act as a focal point for the transfer of basic weather information, as well as products derived from station- and satellite-derived meteorological data, and
  • Evaluate crop responses to growing season weather conditions and to assess the impact on crop yields based on the flow of timely weather information.

To meet these objectives, meteorologists from NOAA and analysts from the WAOB, along with personnel from the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, work as a team to collect and interpret weather data, develop assessments of agricultural production, and then publish their conclusions in the JAWF’s popular periodical, the Weekly Weather and Crop Bulletin (WWCB).

GOES visible imagery showing smoke and clouds
The March 29, 2016, issue of the Weekly weather and Crop Bulletin included this GOES satellite image showing contrasting weather conditions in the central United States.

Part weather report and part crop forecast, each issue of the WWCB offers a bumper crop of weather station statistics (by state), international weather reports, and global crop production summaries. Further, this information is accompanied by imagery from NOAA’s geostationary orbiting environmental satellites (aka: GOES) and/or so-called “blended” data products (i.e., products generated from several data sources, including satellites). Typically, these blended products appear in the form of maps illustrating climactic conditions such as drought, precipitation totals, soil moisture, snow depth, and temperature.

Taken together, this combination of text-based and graphical information provides the WWCB’s wide range of readers – agricultural extension officers, crop insurers, commodity traders, growers’ association members, university faculty, etc. – with a complete overview of the meteorological and agricultural conditions at home and around the globe.

As you might expect, this kind of condensed, thorough, and easily accessible information is a boon to agricultural producers contending with competitive markets for their products.

Image showing vegetation health index data
In addition to the WWCB, the USDA-issued World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates often include “blended” data products, such as the Vegetation Health Index, which uses data from NOAA’s POES satellites.

"[The Weekly Weather and Crop Bulletin]" helps farmers keep up with the world commodity picture," said Mark Brusberg, Deputy Chief Meteorologist with the US Department of Agriculture. "Our farmers are interested in what’s going on in Europe and South America because it ultimately impacts what they would grow and what their prices might be."

For example, said Brusberg, if the WWCB reports a bumper crop of corn and soybeans in South America, U.S. farmers know that it will be harvested about the time they will be purchasing seed or planting their fields. Such information can be useful when deciding whether or not to plant a particular crop.

"It gives them some more information to use in making economic decisions," he said. "It gives them something to think about in terms of how they market their own crops, what time to sell if they think they’re getting a favorable price. Or, if they don’t think the price is favorable, they might wait to sell their crop."

Beyond the WWCB

The USDA also produces a daily, one-page publication, U.S. Agricultural Weather Highlights, which includes highlights from the WWCB, including satellite imagery and/or blended products. In addition, The USDA’s WAOB also produces the monthly World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE), which offers forecasts on crop conditions and agricultural commodity production.