TNC Science Brief

AgEvidence: Science on the Impact of Conservation Agriculture

Managing soil impacts not just the amount and quality of food we produce, but whether we exacerbate or mitigate climate change, and the health of the terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems © Cara Byington/TNC

November 19, 2020

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A new digital tool — AgEvidence — provides easy access to 40 years of peer-reviewed research on the impact of conservation ag practices in the U.S. Midwest.

The Gist

 For decades, scientists have studied the link between conservation agriculture practices and environmental benefits in the United States Corn Belt, including improved water quality and climate change mitigation. Most of those publications sit behind paywalls and cannot be accessed by the general public. Now, anyone can access this body of research with a new online tool.

AgEvidence is a database of nearly 300 peer-reviewed research papers from 1980 with more than 15,000 data points. Visualization analytics enable users to easily navigate and interpret the data. AgEvidence also provides curated expert insights that are gleaned from the data on important topics. A map of all of the studies draws attention to geographies with little data where more studies could be conducted.

AgEvidence is a database of nearly 300 peer-reviewed research papers from 1980 with more than 15,000 data points.

The Big Picture

Demand for food, fuel and fiber places pressure on our land and water resources. Commonly used agriculture practices contribute to soil degradation, nutrient runoff and up to 30 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Yet, agriculture can play a significant role in addressing these critical conservation challenges through the widespread adoption of soil health and nutrient management practices.

AgEvidence shows how agricultural management can impact both the environment and the production of food. The tool provides easy access to this research without having to comb through scientific papers. Users can quickly access peer-reviewed findings of the impact of agricultural practices on key environmental and agronomic performance indicators, including how different practices impact crop health, as well as which practices reduce greenhouse gases, and which most improve water quality.

The tool aims to help the applied science community come to agreement on the impact of often discussed practices. By compiling an exhaustive set of studies, AgEvidence avoids the problem of having different scientists drawing conclusions from different bodies of work. And, unlike many meta-analyses on these practices, the studies in AgEvidence are limited to a specific geography to ensure the greatest relevance.

The Takeaway

“Because there’s so much science on this topic, different people and organizations can have different literature they refer to, which can lead to different conclusions about the evidence,” said Stephen Wood, Ph.D., senior scientist, Agriculture and Food Systems at TNC. “With AgEvidence, we set out to build a comprehensive and easy-to-access data platform allowing for greater alignment among groups about the state of the evidence.”

For users looking for quick answers to important questions, AgEvidence offers curated insights that use the data to answer a multitude of questions about the relationships between conservation agriculture practices and impacts to the environment. Users seeking to go beyond the curated insights can create their own, in-depth custom views of the data.

The AgEvidence database was compiled as part of the Managing Soil Carbon working group of the Science for Nature and People Partnership, which is a partnership of The Nature Conservancy (TNC), Wildlife Conservation Society, and the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Lesley W. Atwood, Ph.D., the postdoctoral scholar with the working group, developed the database.


Watch this tutorial video on how the navigate the AgEvidence dashboard.

Cara Cannon Byington

Cara Cannon Byington is a science writer for The Nature Conservancy covering the work of Conservancy scientists and partners, including the NatureNet Fellows for Cool Green Science. A misplaced Floridian living in Maryland, she is especially fond of any story assignment involving boats and islands, and when not working, can be found hiking, kayaking or traveling with her family and friends. More from Cara

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1 comment

  1. Now we just need something similar for the West! We are organic small grain farmers on the edge of the Willamette Valley in western Oregon, and things that work in the Midwest most often either need substantial adaptations to be relevant or simply won’t work here because our basic environmental and climatic conditions are so very different. The very supportive organic farming groups in our area spend a LOT of time gathering and collating information of this type from farms on the west side of the Cascade Mountains because that information does not yet exist in an easily accessible, comprehensive format.