Wisconsin Geospatial News

NAIP imagery begins trickling into state, program continues to evolve

The 2010 flying season for the National Agriculture Imagery Program (NAIP) is complete, and some data are already beginning to flow into the state Farm Service Agency (FSA) office in Madison.

Many of you reading this are quite familiar with the 1-meter, color NAIP imagery used throughout the state. However, new this year is the inclusion of a 4th, near-infrared band useful for monitoring vegetation health, delineating wetlands, and more.

Earlier in the year Wisconsin was presented with the option to purchase the fourth band at a cost of $96,000. Since most efforts within the state were understandably focused on the spring WROC flights, funds could not be raised to cover the cost. However, later in the year, FSA decided to acquire and process the infrared band for all states flown in 2010. This was made possible due to lower than expected contracting costs, financial contributions from a handful of large states, plus additional funding at the national level by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

In short, Wisconsin is getting the IR band for free. But there are no guarantees this will happen again in the future, unless we partner financially with USDA.

As in the past, the 2010 NAIP imagery will eventually be available through the WisconsinView Web site, but a specific timeline for acquiring data from USDA and making it available has not yet been established. The standard products are 3-band, natural color MrSID mosaics tiled by county, and 4-band uncompressed GeoTIFF images tiled by quarter-quadrangles. Both will be projected to UTM zone 15 or 16.

In a July Mapping Bulletin article I mentioned the USDA Aerial Photography Field Office (APFO) was seeking user-contributed photo identifiable control points to assess the accuracy of 2010 NAIP imagery. It appears that effort did not pan out in Wisconsin, so APFO will conduct their work using photo control points acquired through USGS. This will in no way affect the actual spatial accuracy of the products; the points were to be used only for statistical sampling and accuracy assessments. When I spoke to staff at APFO, they indicated users may contribute photo identifiable control points at any time, to be used towards future NAIP projects.

2011 pilot projects look at higher resolution imagery

At the recent 2010 National States Geographic Information Council (NSGIC) annual meeting in Minneapolis, we learned of an exciting new development that could have an impact on Wisconsin in the future.

For the first time, USDA is exploring the possibility of allowing “buy-ups” to an 18-inch resolution product as part of their standard NAIP contract. Presently, USDA acquires 1-meter resolution imagery to meet their internal needs. However, recognizing the wide utility of NAIP imagery throughout the nation, USDA is implementing a pilot project in 2011 with two or three “medium-sized” states to determine if such a buy-up program is viable. Presumably, if the pilot projects go well, this could be an option for more states in 2012 and beyond.

States must pay the entire cost difference between the 1-meter and 18-inch products. Currently, the estimated buy-up cost is $115 per quarter-quandrangle. To put this in perspective, Wisconsin is covered by roughly 4,600 quarter-quads. This would yield an estimated cost of $537,000 for a statewide, 18-inch, leaf-on dataset. Since Wisconsin was flown in 2010, we would not be eligible to participate in a pilot project next year.

It’s important to note that USDA is making no plans to expand the standard NAIP product to 18-inch. They were very clear in stating at the NSGIC meeting that they do not have an internal need for 18-inch, and that the 1-meter program will continue. There is also no guarantee they will expand the pilot beyond 2011.

Regardless of how the details shake out, I personally see this as a very important development. The move by USDA signals a willingness to think beyond their needs, and facilitate products that may have utility to an even wider audience. While the success of the pilots will not be known for many months, I’m hopeful this could begin setting the stage for the long hoped-for Imagery for the Nation program. Time will tell!