Farmers and ranchers in the US Midwest will be alerted to crop and rangeland problems by a near real-time link to Earth monitoring satellites.

Raytheon has awarded the Upper Midwest Aerospace Consortium (UMAC) a $500,000 contract to develop a crop and rangeland alert system which will provide plant-assessment data to farmers, ranchers and tribal officials in North and South Dakota, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

UMAC, led by the University of North Dakota (UND), is a partnership involving academia, industry and state governments.

The Team Express project plans to provide 15 farmers, 10 ranchers and five Sioux tribal officials with frequent plant assessments during the growing season, using sensors on several spacecraft, including Landsat and NASA's Terra satellite. Infrared images will be used to spot plant stress, while satellite data will also help provide early warning of drought conditions.

UND says the project overcomes a major barrier to the use of satellite data by providing near real-time links to the users. Plant status reports will be delivered every few days via high-bandwidth satellite Internet connection.

Source: Flight International