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Satellites have monitored crop conditions around the world for decades, helping traders predict futures prices in commodities markets and governments anticipate crop shortages.
But those satellite images are now increasingly turning up in courtrooms across the nation as the Agriculture Department's Risk Management Agency cracks down on farmers involved in crop insurance fraud.
The Agriculture Department's Farm Service Agency, which helps farmers get loans and payments from a number of its programs, also uses satellite imaging to monitor compliance.
Across government and private industry alike, satellite imaging technology is being used in water rights litigation and in prosecution of environmental cases ranging from a hog confinement facility's violations of waste discharge regulations to injury damage lawsuits stemming from herbicide applications. The technology is also used to monitor the forestry and mining industries.
"A lot of farmers would be shocked at the detail you can tell. What it does is keep honest folks honest," said G.A. "Art" Barnaby Jr., an agricultural economist at Kansas State University.