CropScape Project Links Decision Makers to Agricultural Data

Posted: October 3, 2011 at 1:03 am, Last Updated: October 3, 2011 at 2:33 pm

By Tara Laskowski

Liping Di, director of Mason's Center for Spatial Information Science and Systems.

When agricultural decision makers or big businesses need to know information about the amount and type of crops being grown in the United States, they turn to CropScape, an online geospatial program produced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and George Mason University.

Mason researchers at the Center for Spatial Information Science and Systems (CSISS) have partnered with the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) to develop a tool that not only provides vital, accurate information, but also allows the public to easily and efficiently access a massive amount of information online.

The program, which uses information from NASS’s Cropland Data Layer and the GeoBrain geospatial information system designed by Mason, allows users to examine any area of the United States for a breakdown of crops. The system is searchable by region, state or county, and is updated annually. Archives date back to 1997.

The site was launched in January 2011, and CropScape recently won a Secretary’s Honor Award from USDA for an exceptional contribution that supports the USDA’s overall mission and goals.
According to Liping Di, director of CSISS, the information is used by a wide variety of people — from policymakers to business owners.

“Environmental researchers also use our data to assess how certain types of crops may have an environmental impact on areas,” he says. “With a recent grant from NASA, we are also looking to add more information about the condition and progress of the crops.”

The CropScape tool allows users to examine the crop breakdown in any given area of the United States, as in the above data chart for Fairfax, Virginia.


This information can be used for addressing issues related to agricultural sustainability, climate change, health research and crop acreage and yield estimation. The service also offers advanced tools such as interactive visualization, web-based data dissemination and geospatial queries and automated data delivery to systems such as Google Earth.

“This is a really popular application — people like it very much,” says Zhenwei Yang, a NASS IT specialist and a CropScape team member. Yang says the site also has international appeal and has been viewed by people in more than 83 countries.

Mason’s GeoBrain Technology is the foundation of the project. GeoBrain is an open, web-based, three-tier geospatial information system that makes large amounts of computing resources — as well as data and information resources at large organizations and distributed locations — all linked together and easily accessible, available and usable online. NASA funded the system, which has been used in multiple projects from government agencies such as NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Geological Survey.

“With the help of George Mason University, we have been able to disseminate this data to the public in a way that was not possible before,” says Yang. “Before this technology, you would not have been able to access this amount of information over the Internet — you would have had to load it onto a CD or DVD, and then use special software to open and look at it. This is a very good model of collaboration between a university and a government agency.”


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