OpTIS Data for Indiana Available; More States' Data Coming Soon

A massive new data set chronicling residue management and winter cover crop use in Iowa, Illinois and Indiana from 2005 through 2018 is now in the final stages of preparation for release on CTIC's website. The resource—the Operational Tillage Information System, or OpTIS—uses publicly available remote sensing data to monitor the adoption of no-till, conservation tillage, and winter cover crops. Data covering the rest of the Corn Belt, extending from eastern Ohio to eastern Kansas and Nebraska and from the Missouri Bootheel to the Red River Valley of North Dakota, will be available in the next few weeks.
Analyzing satellite images of the landscape through software developed by Applied GeoSolutions, OpTIS automatically identifies and quantifies various types of tillage and cover crop systems. Although the source data is captured at a resolution of 30 meters and tables are accurate to the acre, OpTIS ensures grower privacy by reporting and mapping at the USDA crop reporting district or HUC 8 watershed scale.
CTIC, The Nature Conservancy (TNC), and Applied GeoSolutions have spearheaded the development, testing and promotion of OpTIS. Dr. David Gustafson, OpTIS project director for CTIC, points out that the trove of tillage system data is a natural update to CTIC's role as the go-to source for information on tillage practices and crop residue management.
"Starting in the 1980s, CTIC served as host for the National Crop Residue Management Survey database, which compiled residue management transect data collected by USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service personnel and conservation district staff in most states," says Gustafson. "That data for 1989 through 2004 are still available on our website, and still provide useful perspective for researchers studying the environmental impacts of conservation adoption. With OpTIS, we are bringing our knowledge up to date and adding unprecedented levels of resolution to the world's understanding of crop residue management and cover crops in the Corn Belt."
Wide Range of Applications
Queries of OpTIS data at www.ctic.org can be customized by year, units, crops and geographic area. The data can be used in a wide range of applications, including:
  • Tracking progress in meeting goals set out by conservation programs like the Mississippi River Basin Initiative and state or regional efforts to reduce soil loss or nutrient flow into rivers and lakes
  • Targeting resources like technical services or incentive programs
  • Comparing the success of various conservation programs across large areas
  • Validating and tracking progress on ecosystem services for market-based environmental solutions
  • Substantiating sustainability programs throughout the farm and food supply chain
  • Analyzing markets for goods and services impacted by trends in conservation
  • Studying the adoption of conservation systems and providing accurate data for modeling outcomes
DNDC Model Analysis
During a pilot program in Indiana, AGS, CTIC and The Nature Conservancy used 10 years' worth of tillage transect data in CTIC's archives to ground-truth the OpTIS algorithms, ensuring that the system accurately recognizes the visual signature of various percentages of ground cover across a variety of landscapes, crops and soil types. OpTIS data are also being run through the University of New Hampshire's DeNitrification-Decomposition (DNDC) model, which will allow researchers to correlate land use monitoring data with soil health metrics, including nitrate loss, soil carbon, the emission of nitrous oxides and total greenhouse gas emissions.
Seed funding for OpTIS has been provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, with major subsequent funding—including a $500,000 grant from the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR), with matching funds from Bayer CropScience, Corteva, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, The Mosaic Company, J.R. Simplot Company, Syngenta, the Walmart Foundation and TNC.
Hypoxia Task Force
CTIC and TNC have been promoting OpTIS at conferences around the country, including the Hypoxia Task Force meeting in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on May 16, where new CTIC executive director Mike Komp updated task force members on the program.
"OpTIS is a perfect fit with CTIC's mission as a collector and disseminator of conservation technology information," notes Komp, an expert in geographical information systems. "It's also the next logical step in harnessing the latest technology to fulfill our mission."