Minimize Satellites Find Greener Pastures

A major part of Brazil's economy depends on a grass-fed animal—the cow. Between 1970 and 2006, Brazil doubled its cattle farm productivity, increasing income and helping with global food demands. Today, it is one of the largest cattle producers in the world. But cattle production has come with an environmental cost: the creation of pastures is a main driver for Amazon deforestation.

Researchers have recently been using NASA satellite data to monitor the spread and quality of pasturelands and to estimate how many cattle those lands can support. The recent study shows that many existing pasturelands can actually sustain more cattle.

"The main goal of our work is to produce more meat per hectare," said Laerte Ferreira of the Federal University of Goiás (Brazil), whose work has been supported by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and is part of the MapBiomas initiative. "If we can improve the use of these pastures, we can avoid more deforestation and promote livestock in a more sustainable way."

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Credit: NASA Earth Observatory image by Joshua Stevens, using data courtesy of Arantes, A. E., et al. (2018)

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