Operational Tillage Information System (OpTIS)
Automated Use of Remote Sensing Data to Monitor Conservation Practices
The Operational Tillage Information System (OpTIS) has been developed by Applied GeoSolutions (AGS) and the Conservation Technology Information Center (CTIC) as a method for the automated use of remote sensing (satellite-based) data to monitor conservation practices in agricultural systems, including various forms of reduced tillage and the planting of winter cover crops. While the OpTIS calculations are performed and validated at the farm-field scale, the privacy of individual producers is fully protected by distributing only spatially-aggregated results – at the county and watershed (8-digit HUC) scale.
CTIC has been the primary source of this type of conservation practice monitoring data for nearly 30 years. In partnership with USDA and many others, the CTIC curates and distributes the National Crop Residue Management (CRM) Survey, collected using validated transect methods – annually in most states from 1989 through 2004, and again in 2006 and 2008. When fully implemented, OpTIS will fill critical gaps on recent trends in conservation tillage practices, as well as tracking the adoption of winter cover crops.
The data available using OpTIS are critically important for multiple public- and private-sector stakeholders. For instance, EPA and the States can use these data to track progress and better focus efforts to meet the ambitious goals of the Gulf of Mexico Hypoxia Task Force. Private-sector players throughout agri-food system supply chains can better understand market trends in the adoption of cover crops and specific tillage systems that impact environmental sustainability, such as GHG emissions and soil carbon sequestration. Conservation organizations can better understand where efforts are most needed to improve soil health and water quality outcomes.
Indiana Pilot Study
Ten years of tillage-transect data collected by the State of Indiana were used to verify the ability of OpTIS algorithms to automatically process publicly-available remote sensing data, in order to accurately characterize tillage practices and the presence of winter cover crops.
Building on the success of the Indiana Pilot, CTIC is now again partnering with AGS to apply OpTIS across the entire US Corn Belt (Phase 1). Phase 2 will involve application of OpTIS to all US agricultural regions.