Since it's first satellite launched in 1972, NASA and the USGS' jointly operated Landsat program has transformed how we view the Earth and it's changing surface. The Landsat program has allowed for changes in forest cover, polar ice caps, and urbanization around the world to be monitored and mapped for the last 50 years. One of the most impacted sectors has undoubtedly been agriculture. Remote sensing of the Earth's cropland has allowed researchers, farmers, and policymakers to monitor crops as they grow; pinpoint pest and disease damage; estimate drought damage; and create accurate production estimates. To celebrate Landsat's 50th birthday, NASA Harvest sat down with a group of Landsat, remote sensing, and agricultural experts to discuss how Landsat revolutionized agricultural monitoring over the last half century and how it can continue driving agricultural improvements.
In the video, we examine the "Great Grain Robbery" of 1972, an early example of the need for agricultural remote sensing, in which poor harvests within the Soviet Union resulted in surprise grain purchases and an unexpected food crisis within the United States. We also explore how the decision to make the Landsat archive free and publicly available in 2008 caused the amount of agricultural research and use cases to exponentially explode, particularly how it helped create the United State's Department of Agriculture's annual Cropland Data Layer product which maps dozens of crops across the United States. Looking at the challenges that we face today in terms of a growing population, changing climate, and lack of access to food, Landsat is a crucial tool to helping NASA Harvest, farmers, and decision makers confront these challenges and create a more food secure future.