Cropestimating Methodologies

For more than a decade, the U.S. government has estimated the total acreage under illicit-drug cultivation at home and abroad, applying proven methods similar to those used to estimate the size of legal crops. The government knows with less certainty, however, actual crop yields (the amount of coca leaf or OPIUM gum produced per acre). Soil fertility, weather, farming techniques, and plant diseases can produce wide variations in crop yields. Given the clandestine nature of the drug business and variations from year to year and place to place, the government cannot estimate accurately the quantities harvested and available for processing. Furthermore, wide variations in processing efficiencies (depending on the orgin and quality of raw material, technical processing method, size and sophistication of laboratories, and the skill and experience of workers and chemists) make cocaine and heroin production estimates extremely complicated. Using commonly believed processing effi ciencies, the government estimates a range for COCAINE and heroin production. Estimating the amount of this production that enters the United States poses still more difficult challenges.

The government uses two principal methods of estimating illicit-drug acreage under cultivation:

(1) photographic-based aerial surveys: and,

(2) remote sensing from satellite surveillance. Both methods have validity and reliability problems, but aerial surveys matched by ground truth (the verification of cultivation in the areas photographed) produce the best estimates. Satellite surveillance data are problematic because of weather, instrument calibration, cultivation under foliage, the small size of fields, false positives and negatives that result from color spectrum (signature) inaccuracies, and lack of ground truth.

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