The US Grows the Most Productive Plants in the World, Says NASA

Remember learning about America's "amber waves of grain?" Well, it turns out that the United States' bread basket—a.k.a., the Corn Belt—is even more productive than previously thought. In fact, during its growing season, it's the most productive land on Earth, according to new NASA data.

For the past couple years, satellite sensors have been gathering data on plant activity across the continent, and scientists recently realized that they could use this data to learn about the fluorescence of the plants. Because chlorophyll emits a small amount of fluorescent light during photosynthesis, they're able to measure the gross productivity of plants based on their fluorescence. In the map above, the brighter the glow, the more fluorescence, and, in turn, the more productive the plants.

NASA researchers published a study about the satellite data last week, and the conclusion is nothing short of dramatic. While tropical areas outpace everyone on total productivity throughout the year, America's Corn Belt eclipses even the Amazon region in productivity during its growing season: in July, the fluorescence in the area that includes Ohio, Nebraska, and Kansas is 40 percent higher than in the Amazon.

The US Grows the Most Productive Plants in the World, Says NASA

"The paper shows that fluorescence is a much better proxy for agricultural productivity than anything we've had before," said co-author Christian Frankenburg in a press release. "This can go a long way regarding monitoring—and maybe even predicting—regional crop yields." He added, "Areas all over the world are not as productive as this area."

Obviously, there are other factors in place. Recent droughts across the country, for instance, are wrecking farmers' yields. But with more research like this new NASA study, we can better understand the big picture, and hopefully, farm smarter as a result. [NASA]