Using Sentinel-2 to track field-level tillage practices at regional scales in smallholder systems
Zero tillage is an important pathway to sustainable intensification and low-emission agriculture. However, quantifying the extent of zero tillage adoption at the field scale has been challenging, especially in smallholder systems where field sizes are small and there is limited ground data on zero tillage adoption. Remote sensing offers the ability to map tillage practices at large spatio-temporal scales, yet to date no studies have used satellite data to map zero tillage adoption in smallholder agricultural systems. In this study, we use Sentinel-2 satellite data, random forest classifiers, and Google Earth Engine to map tillage practices across India’s main grain producing region, the Indo-Gangetic Plains. We find that tillage practices can be classified with moderate accuracy (an overall accuracy of 75%), particularly in regions with relatively large field sizes and homogenous crop management practices. We find that models that use satellite data from only the first half of the growing season perform as well as models that use data throughout the growing season, allowing for the creation of within-season tillage maps. Finally, we find that our model can generalize well through time in the western IGP, with reductions in accuracy of only 5–10%. Our results highlight the ability of Sentinel-2 satellite data to map tillage practices at scale, even in smallholder systems where field sizes are small and cropping practices are heterogeneous.