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Food Production

Global Feature Tour: Agricultural Field Patterns

Using satellite imagery to compare sizes and shapes of fields in six agricultural regions around the world, this segment explains the relationships between field patterns and the climate, topography, soil, economy, culture, and history of a region.


Produced by the Space Telescope Science Institute’s Office of Public Outreach in collaboration with the NASA Earth Observatory (


Text, Agricultural Field Patterns. Orchards, Farms, fields, and pastures cover an area on Earth more than twice that of North America. From space, agricultural land is easily recognizable by the regular patterns of fields, crop Rose, tracks, and irrigation systems.
Animation of a globe. A white circle on the state of Minnesota.
Text, Southwestern Minnesota, USA
East Branch Kanarazi Creek and Rushmore
Neat squares - bound by roads running north-south and east-west - are typical of the relatively flat farmland of the American Midwest. The pattern is a result of 18th and 19th century surveying practices and later, road-building. Land is divided into perfect one-mile sections. Each section is subdivided by tracks, streams, and crop boundaries.
Animation of a globe. A white circle on the state of Kansas.
Kansas, USA. U.S. Route 83. In other parts of the Midwest, circles and semi-circles fill the grid. This pattern is a result of center-pivot irrigation systems. Groundwater is drawn up from the well in the center of the field, and fed through a hose attached to a metal frame. Water sprays out as the frame pivots around the center.
Animation of a globe. A white circle on Germany.
Northwestern Germany. Sudlohn, Weseke, Ramsdor. In northwestern Germany, the patchwork of small fields is a relic of farming practices dating back to the Middle Ages. Large Fields were divided into strips, which were formed by serfs or peasant families. Villages in this region also date back to medieval times.
Animation of a globe. A white circle on Thailand.
Bangkok, Thailand. Rangsit Canal. North of Bangkok, Thailand, small, rectangular rice paddies form a hatchwork pattern. The fields are separated by a network of irrigation canals bordered by roads and dirt paths. Fields that appear in deep purple are being flooded as part of the growing cycle.
Animation of a globe. A white circle on Bolivia.
Central Bolivia.
The radial, pie-shaped patterns of maize, sunflower, and soybean fields near San Julian, Bolivia, are part of a planned settlement in the rainforest. At the center of each pie is a nucleo, a small community with a school, church, bar, and soccer field. Between each group of radial fields is a rainforest that has not yet been cleared.
Animation of a globe. A white circle on Brazil.
South-central Brazil. Cloud, Shadow, Apore River
The enormous farms and large fields in the woodland-savanna region known as the cerradoin south-central Brazil or a result of relatively flat topography, reliable rainfall, and low cost of land. Such large-scale farming has also required significant investment and things like Machinery, application of soil conditioners to reduce the acidity, and breeding of new varieties of crops to withstand tropical climates.
Six different field patterns. Text, Field patterns differ from place to place to place on Earth's surface. Agricultural practices are influenced by topography, climate, soil type, crop type, economics, and local history and tradition.