Ag GIS map project to start on Shore
SALISBURY, Md. (Jan. 9, 2018) — A recently-launched extensive mapping project for six counties on Maryland’s Eastern Shore aims to help farmers more effectively use data from their farms.
The Agriculture GIS Extension Web Map, or AgGIS, is a project of Salisbury University’s Eastern Shore Regional GIS Cooperative and funded by the Rural Maryland Prosperity Investment Fund through two Eastern Shore regional councils.
Launched last month online at www.esrgc.org/webmaps, the project provides a single location for farmers and agriculture leaders to access and view existing spatial datasets relating to agriculture.
In separate data layers, users can see land elevation, slope, soil type, agricultural ditches, county boundaries, zoning classifications, parcel information presented digitally on satellite imagery.
Championed by Scott Warner and Mike Pennington, executive directors of the Mid-Shore Regional Council and the Tri-County Council of the Lower Eastern Shore of Maryland, respectively, the initial goal of the project was to fill in gaps where GIS data useful to farmers was lacking and improve farmer and public access to key data.
“They’d been thinking about this for awhile,” said Lauren McDermott, ESRGC practice manager overseeing the project of the directors. “GIS is a very expensive science and that means in an area like this a regional approach has been a very good solution.”
Initially, getting an idea of what data would be most helpful to farmers had some obstacles, said Mary Buffington, ESRGC senior GIS analyst.
Many conversation with individual farmers took a chicken-or-the-egg route with Buffington asking “What do you need?” and farmers replying, “Well, what can you do?”
“It proved much more challenging to get buy-in,” she said. “There was this communication barrier that just wasn’t working.”
Eventually, updating information on ditches and streamlining access to available data emerged as early priorities.
Regarding ditches, the ESRGC’s work includes about 5,000 more ditches for the project area that weren’t covered in a 2006 digital survey.
The map also has a layer showing irrigated land, protected land, a 100-foot stream buffer layer and a layer showing the effective FEMA floodplain.
As a free service, ESRGC is also offering to help farmers integrate data they’ve collected on their own farms to help address production issues.
Yield maps, soil pH data and other information can help show a clearer picture of what’s happening on a specific farm or even part of a farm.
Buffington said consultation would be confidential and one-on-one with individual farmers.
“That’s where we would help them with analysis,” she said. “That’s extremely sensitive data and we would not share that.”
The ability to mix and match different layers should offer farmers the flexibility address different issues with the same tool, McDermot said.
“It’s those spatial relationships, that’s the power of the GIS,” McDermott said. “Looking at several layers on top of one another to see what spacial patterns are there and ask and answer specific questions.”
A “2016 Six Inch Survey” layer gives a more up-to-date look at the land.
“There is a date to it and there is a value to having the date,” McDermott said. “That’s the best data that’s available in Maryland.”
Some of the layers pull data from the state agencies where it is generated so as the data is updated at the agency level, it’s automatically updated in AgGIS.
“It’s always going to be the most updated available data,” Buffington said.
Buffington said they chose the layers based on conversations with agriculture leaders in the project area but added they are more a starting point than a finished product.
“The picture tells the story,” she said. “It’s very hard to conceptualize this without a visual.”
She’s hoping to get feedback from farmers who use the map as to what else can be added or changed to make it a more useful tool.
“We can easily add new layers as they’re identified,” Buffington said. “We can remove layers, we can refine them. Fortunately, Maryland is an open data state so if the GIS is available we can add it very quickly.”
“This is a conversation starter, added McDermott. “We really want feedback.”
Buffington can be reached at 410-548-3844 or email@example.com.
Easton, MD 21601-8925