South, S. R. 2003. Identification and mapping of agricultural tillage methods utilizing remotely sensed data. Ph.D. Dissertation, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, USA.

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The impact of widespread land use/land cover conversion from natural ecosystems to managed agricultural production has significantly altered long term ecological processes and balances. The methods employed in crop production, encompassing hundreds of thousands of individual fields, collectively account for 199 million acres of current land use. In order to assess the impacts of cropping methods, fundamental spatial data are required. Data regarding the total spatial extent and distribution of cropping methods would provide much needed data to assess and monitor the environmental impacts of widespread row crop agriculture.

Remotely sensed data provides a means to quickly and cost effectively monitor cropping methods over large areas. Increased use of conservation tillage methods may enhance carbon sequestration rates in soils and significantly reduce erosion of topsoil, the nations largest contribution of non point source pollution. The differentiation of cropping methods using remotely sensed data would provide current estimates of environmental impacts, and data for use as input into environmental models, to predict future consequences and impacts of man’s influence on the environment.

This study investigates the use of remotely sensed data to identify conventional and conservation tillage methods. Landsat 7 ETM + data, covering a 180 × 180 km study area over portions of Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio were analyzed to document and map agricultural cropping practices. Several classification techniques, including spectral angle methods, were examined to assess their suitability to differentiate conventional and conservation tillage practices. The results indicate that of the 3.6 million acres of agricultural land use/land cover identified within the study area, 1.8 million acres (52%) were cropped using conservation tillage methods. The current yearly carbon sequestration potential of the study area conservation tilled fields is estimated at 228,490 metric tons/year.

In summary, remote sensing techniques and methods used in this study have the potential to provide a great deal of data regarding the implications of cropping methods. The results of this study, scaled up to larger regional or watershed scales, would provide a time and cost effective method to assess cropping methods and their associated environmental impacts.

Associated Treatment Areas:

Regional or Synthesis

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