AgMission Grant to Optimize OpTIS, Remote Sensing Tool to Improve Soil Health

AgMission™, an initiative co-created by the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) and World Farmers’ Organisation to develop and implement climate-smart agriculture, awarded The Nature Conservancy (TNC) a $1,784,805 grant to expand the scale and scope of the Operational Tillage Information System (OpTIS). OpTIS is a remote sensing tool that gives the conservation and agriculture communities vital data to help farmers accelerate soil health and climate-smart practices. TNC is partnering with the Conservation Tillage Information Center (CTIC) and Regrow Ag on expanding OpTIS data, with all three organizations providing matching funds for a total $3,592,805 investment.

This funding will expand the OpTIS dataset to map and monitor where practices such as conservation tillage, cover crops and crop rotations have been used for over seven years (2015-2021) on agriculture lands in the United States. The OpTIS data is produced using publicly available satellite data and reported at watershed scales to ensure the privacy of individual producers. The dataset provides a reliable method to verify regional changes on the ground and help both the public and private sectors partner with farmers to expand adoption of climate-smart practices. The OpTIS data is also used in models to estimate how the changes in practices are impacting soil health and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Sequestering carbon in the soil through management practices like reduced tillage and cover crops can help farmers make their lands more resilient to extreme weather and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions – plus, limit the future scope of climate change. This project will produce crucial data on where practices are being adopted, and how much impact they are having on soils and emissions. By making the information publicly available, the many groups and programs working to help farmers adopt climate-smart practices will benefit. Allison Thomson
AgMission Program Director

Additionally, the project team is developing two new data products to help the livestock industry track GHG emission changes in response to changing grazing practices. The first is a grazing lands data product that measures the short-term and long-term trends of grasslands health using remotely sensed data on net primary productivity and vegetative cover. Data on livestock populations can be used in a tool called ManureDNDC—a computer simulation model for estimating GHG and ammonia emissions in livestock farms—to produce a state-level estimate of livestock greenhouse gas emissions.

The OpTIS project delivers data through a public online portal, hosted by CTIC, that already provides a state-by-state assessment of the extent of adoption of soil health practices in croplands. Data summarized at the state crop reporting district and expanded to include trends on grasslands health and cover, modeled results on soil carbon sequestration and an inventory of livestock greenhouse gas emissions will soon be available on the public portal. Higher-resolution data for research purposes will be available upon request to Regrow Ag.

“Since its introduction in 2019, OpTIS has provided agronomists, researchers, agribusiness professionals, conservation groups, policy makers and more with a cost-effective and efficient way to measure adoption trends of regenerative agriculture practices and their impact on the environment over large geographies and many years,” said Shamitha Keerthi, science director for The Nature Conservancy’s North America Regenerative Crop System Strategy. “This funding has enabled us to extend the data to a national range, thereby growing our potential to expand and accelerate regenerative solutions on more lands for the benefit of more people.”

“We are excited to be continuing this important partnership with The Nature Conservancy and Regrow, having served as a trusted public source for conservation technology information for more than 40 years,” said Ryan Heiniger, CTIC’s executive director. “The new OpTIS data release now includes all lower 48 states, providing a critical set of national baseline data for climate-smart agriculture practices like cover crops.”

TNC, CTIC and Regrow Ag will hold virtual and in-person workshops, webinars and conference presentations to disseminate the results of this work to conservation professionals and other agricultural data users. The next webinar is scheduled for Wednesday, September 27 at noon ET and will provide information on the launch of national OpTIS data. Registration is free and open now.



The Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) and the World Farmers’ Organisation (WFO) established AgMission, a global collaboration of farmers, ranchers and scientists mobilizing data and partnering together to accelerate collaboration, develop science-based solutions and expand innovation and research that powers adaptation and adoption of climate-smart solutions. AgMission is empowering the agriculture sector to become net-zero for greenhouse gas emissions.

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