How Remote Sensing Informs Conservation Ag Practices

THE CONSERVATION TECHNOLOGY INFORMATION CENTER HAS A NEW SYSTEM.

Along with The Nature Conservancy and Applied GeoSolutions, the Conservation Technology Information Center (CTIC) has developed an automated system to map soil health and conservation practices via remote sensing data.

Steve Hagen, senior remote sensing scientist at Dagan Inc., explains that the Operational Tillage Information System (OpTIS) uses publicly available data to map and monitor the adoption of tillage practices, cover crops, and crop rotations.

OpTIS has collected and published data from 2005-2018 for 645 counties in the Corn Belt.

“The information is processed at the field scale but summarized and distributed at aggregated scales for public insights,” Hagen says.

Data is distributed at the watershed, district, and state level to ensure grower privacy is respected. To validate the data, the OpTIS team uses satellite sensors, roadside observations at the farm field level, and ag census data at the county level.

David Gustafson, project director for the CTIC, says, “There is no limit to the kinds of applications that are possible with the data set.”

That could include measuring soil health baselines and trends, inputting data to water quality and biogeochemical models, targeting conservation efforts where levels of adoption are low, and providing data verification for ecosystem services markets (soil carbon and water quality impacts).

USERS OF THE SYSTEM

Steve Hagen says, “A key piece of the work in front of us is to get these data into the hands of folks that can use and benefit from these data.”

Jordan Seger with the Indiana State Department of Agriculture says the field staff has been helping support the development of the system, validating the observations at field scale and “teaching” the algorithms.

“We have the philosophy that you don’t know if you don’t measure,” Seger explains. “We think that is especially true for conservation trends to gauge progress and find where you can do more to move the needle. We focus on outcomes as well, and OpTIS allows us to see the results over time.”

Mark Schmidt, associate director of stakeholder relations and stewardship at John Deere, says it’s an exciting time for conservation to deliver upon common goals for productivity and doing so sustainably.

He says that systems like OpTIS will be used to foster practical approaches to conservation, develop and share information and data products, and to provide a forum for coordinating stakeholder interests.

Often there is a lack of tools available to apply different forms of information to strategy. OpTIS serves as a solution due to its ability to present data spatially, in regard to time, and at various geographical scales.

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