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Arizona Scientist Crunches Satellite Data For 'Grass-Cast' Rangeland Forecast Tool

A map forecasts rangeland production
U.S. Department of Agriculture
A map forecasts rangeland production if precipitation in these Plains counties is near-normal.

Ranchers and land managers have a new tool to help predict the quality of grazing land.

Come spring, livestock ranchers in the Great Plains region take a look at where the best land for grazing will be.

Now, a collaboration with nationally funded researchers is using 30 years of data to create the first ever “Grass-Cast.”

The team uses historical data for counties, plus satellite images and weather forecasts to create a map of where to most likely find good vegetation growth. The data coming in compiles measurements from the on the ground and in the sky. 

University of Arizona Assistant Professor Bill Smith crunches the satellite statistics that make the maps.

“With satellite data, we’re really able to look at these rangelands on a near daily basis and look at them across different areas of the electromagnetic spectrum, in a way that we can provide a lot of useful information,” Smith said.

Arizona data isn’t included yet, because current satellite technology measures a wavelength of light that grasses put out as they photosynthesize. In Arizona, it is more difficult to measure that wavelength because the climate and the contrast with the color of the soil. But Smith hopes by using new satellite technology that measures a different wavelength to measure, ranchers here will have a new option for their 'Grass Cast' soon.

Casey Kuhn reports from KJZZ’s West Valley Bureau. She comes to Phoenix from the Midwest, where she graduated from Indiana University with a degree in journalism.Kuhn got her start in radio reporting in college at the community public radio station, WFHB. She volunteered there as a reporter and worked her way up to host the half-hour, daily news show. After graduating, she became a multimedia reporter at Bloomington's NPR/PBS station WFIU/WTIU, where she reported for and produced a weekly statewide news television show.Since moving to the Southwest, she’s discovered a passion for reporting on rural issues, agriculture and the diverse people who make up her community.Kuhn was born and raised in Cincinnati, where her parents instilled in her a love of baseball, dogs and good German beer. You’ll most likely find her around the Valley with a glass of prosecco in one hand and a graphic novel in the other.She finds the most compelling stories come from KJZZ’s listeners.