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GCN : December 2013
At the same time that GIS is allowing for more effective data analysis by special- ists within an organization, new GIS tools are also increasingly effective as a means of reaching out to deliver content to non- specialists. "How do we create the means for peo- ple who are out in the field, who are not GIS-confident necessarily... to tell a story geographically?" Lowe said. "We don't want to just rely on the specialist. We want to extend the power of mapping to anyone who wants it." USDA is increasingly port- ing subsets of its data to Web applications using such tools as ArcGIS Online. CROPPING OUT FRAUD One of the more dramatic examples of the effectiveness of GIS technologies at USDA is its Risk Management Agency's program to set crop insurance rates and to detect fraudulent claims of crop losses. The Insurance Services unit's regional offices produce FCI-33 [what is that?] rate maps in Esri ArcView. "They identify areas where there may be something that could impact the production of a crop," said James Hipple, remote sensing and GIS adviser for RMA. "It could be an area that is prone to flooding ... it could be an area where the slope or aspect leads toward a potential risk for that crop that is different than the risks and the rest of the county." The FCI-33 rate maps draw upon data from a variety of sources, including soil data from the Natural Resources Conser- vation Service, floodplain data from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, farm location and crop data from the Farm Services Agency, historic weather data and satellite imagery. After assess- ing all this data, the agency analyst will create rate zones in the FCI-33 maps. "If a producer is within this zone they get a different-than-standard-rate insurance of- fer and if they are outside of this zone they get the standard offer for that particular crop," Hipple said. Once the maps are created, they are integrated into the RMA production envi- ronment, where insurance providers can access them. And RMA has also ported the maps to a Web service so that farmers can check them. If the farmer has issues with the zone classification he receives, he can submit a request for a rate change. "With all of the geospatial data that's come in, we're able to really, really refine these maps," said Hipple. "If there is a flood that occurs, our lines are really ac- curate in terms of being able to determine areas that flood versus those that don't. Going back 20 years, it was just an eyeball and a couple of pencils." The GIS capabilities are, in fact, so good that the RMA also uses them it to catch those making fraudulent claims of crop losses. Using data from the recently launched Landsat 8 satellite, the RMA is able to determine whether damage to crops after a flood or other weather event has actually occurred. "I've been working in this arena since the early 1990s," Hipple said, "and many of the things that have been promised in GIS are actually now starting to come to fruition." CROPSCAPE AND VEGSCAPE USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service has also recently turned to GIS Web services to make its huge Cropland Data Layer (CDL) easier to access for the public. The CDL contains geocoded satellite im- agery of crop acreage that NASS analyzes in order to produce crop estimates. "Basically we map all of the crops for each crop year," said Jeffrey Bailey, chief of NASS' Geospatial Information Branch. "We map over 100 different crops and we use that also to make official estimates during the growing season." The maps have been produced since 2008 and each year's data is publicly available through 2012. NASS has had access to Landsat imag- ery since 2006 and since 2011 the service has received imagery from the Disaster Monitoring Constellation satellites. That imagery is integrated with ground data from the Farm Service Agency. "From our ground data, we know that a specific pixel is a cornfield," explained Bailey, "and we look at its spectral signa- ture. We get about two images a month, so we can see the green up of the crop." In short, NASS analysts are able to de- termine not only what crops are on each piece of land, down to a resolution of 30 meters, but the degree of growth between images. The satellite data by itself isn't yet up to task. "We need the ground data to get accurate results," Bailey said. But with the ground data added, he says, the accuracy of the application is in the mid-90's per- centile. Each year's imagery data alone now amounts to approximately 10 terabytes, and Bailey's team now has approximately 40 T of data. And while all that data is ac- cessible to the public, it would not be fea- sible for most users to download the entire data set. Accordingly, NASS has produced an on- line application that provides not only ac- cess to selected data, but built-in query and reporting tools. "The CropScape website provides an efficient way to distribute the data and eliminates the need to distribute DVDs via snail mail or FTP," Bailey said. "More importantly it enables more people who do not have GIS software to interact with the data right on the website." The web application, which was launched in January 2011 has, he said, been a hit. "CropScape has empowered the masses to perform area change and rotational crop analysis with a queryable, interactive interface," he said. The masses he's talking about, he adds, are primar- ily academic researchers. "CDL end-users are now documenting their uses in peer- reviewed literature, with uses of the CDL 20 GCN DECEMBER 2013 • GCN.COM THE GEOSPATIAL ENTERPRISE "I' ve been working in this arena since the early 1990s, and many of the things that have been promised in GIS are actually now starting to come to fruition." --- James Hipple, USDA