Harvest partner organization Applied Geosolutions LLC (AGS), led by President and Chief Scientist Dr. Bill Salas, teamed up with The Nature Conservancy, and the Conservation Technology Information Center to map agricultural methodologies and their environmental impacts in the U.S. Corn Belt from 2005 to 2018. Their project and subsequent report addressed the use of the Operational Tillage Information System (OpTIS) and the DeNitrification DeComposition (DNDC) model. The OpTIS is a remote sensing technology that utilizes Earth observation data from satellites, providing information on soil health practices as a result of adopting new agriculture practices over time. The related DNDC model is used to examine the impacts of agriculture management changes by looking at the levels of carbon and nitrogen in the soil. AGS has created a spin-off company, Dagan, Inc., to scale up the application of OpTIS and DNDC - providing data services and analytics to support resilient agriculture across the U.S. and the world.
This report focused evaluation efforts on the Corn Belt region in the Midwestern United States, both organizing field data collection of farming methods and using this ground data to validate the satellite estimates. Consultants in the region were recruited to use the free OpTIS Mobile application, developed by Applied Geosolutions with the support of The Nature Conservancy. The purpose of the app is to guide users on data collection, allowing for a widely-available, consistent, and user-friendly platform for regular observations of agriculture fields. The data collected by users of the app becomes part of the Applied Geosolutions database, allowing researchers to map tillage trends and crop practices in order to implement alternative methods that increase soil health where needed.
The group concludes that over the past 10 years, farming practices have changed notably and conservation farming methods have been implemented and are continuing to be adopted in some of the observed regions. Additionally, the use of cover crops seems to be expanding rapidly in many of the observed areas, which will positively impact environmental outcomes including soil health and decreased greenhouse gas emissions. This collaborative project serves as an example of a win-win situation achieved via public private partnerships, a main area of emphasis for NASA Harvest capacity building, and involving a variety of stakeholders beyond the scientific and academic community.
Read the full report or review the fact sheet in the "Related Documents" section for more details on the data collection process, the OpTIS app, the DNDC model, and the results of this longitudinal study.