Steve Ridder - - Agtech

Your Soils Are Talking All Season Long, Are You Listening?

The soil and crop ecosystem is one of the most complex and dynamic interactions in nature. Throughout the growing season, crop production patterns, weather events, and the millions of organisms living below the surface are changing the conditions of soils. Advancements in crop imaging and satellite technology are able to highlight this variability and changing conditions from year to year, but seeing the changing conditions of soil has been challenging to date. The paradox is that seeing changes in soils during the growing season is when growers need soil data the most, but has been the hardest to collect. With Teralytic’s low-cost wireless NPK soil probe, growers can now capture these changes in real-time. Field data reporting on NPK levels, moisture, salinity, pH, and more enable faster decisions and preventive action well before problems manifest in the plant or appear in a satellite or drone scan.

Data Below the Surface

Typically, collecting data from the field involves quite a bit of time: collecting multiple soil samples, sending to a lab, waiting days or weeks, and—after this manual and time-intensive process—only receiving a snapshot of the fields’ conditions from that one day. Farmers need better options to capture the real-time conditions of soils so they can adapt their irrigation and fertilization to meet ever-changing conditions.

Many farmers are starting to collect more advanced data by generating static soil maps using technology from companies like Trimble, Veris, and SoilOptix. By capturing soil maps, converting them into shapefiles, and uploading to software analytics packages, farmers can see detailed sections of their fields and visualize the variability. Yet these are still just snapshots that don't capture the continued changes in a field throughout the growing season. When combined with Teralytic's soil probes, streaming data every 15 minutes on everything from soil moisture, NPK, and salinity to aeration, respiration, light, and humidity, growers get a more complete picture of their soil health as the changes occur all season long.

Farmers need better options to capture the real-time conditions of soils so they can adapt their irrigation and fertilization.

Location and Duration: Removing the Guesswork

Soils vary continuously within fields and between farms. Surface variation may be easily seen, but nutrient variability is usually not obvious—so choosing sensor locations is critical to monitoring this variability and changes in soils.

With cheaper, easier-to-use probes available, growers can deploy them in greater numbers to gain a more precise and dynamic picture of what’s happening in the fields. Statistically, more probes mean better accuracy—and only through multiple sensors can one track the dynamic changes relative to variability across the field. However, one doesn’t need to put a probe every acre, as that would be cost-prohibitive, so balancing soil placement with density is a good way to get a more accurate picture of your farm’s soils without breaking the bank. But not only is location important, so is duration.

Keeping sensors in-ground all season long helps detect the in-season changes that otherwise aren't picked up by one-time measurements. For example, in the Spring, a wet area of the field may become drier than other areas as the crops grow and deplete the water. And as plants take up nutrients, or as rain washes nutrients away, a fertile area of soil may become less fertile than other areas.

In-field, sensor-based measurements from Teralytic provide growers with more granular details than traditional moisture-only probes, such as salt concentration, fertilizer efficacy, and, most importantly, the soil’s response to irrigation and fertilization events. This allows farmers to take real-time actions when a field condition, such as low NPK levels, elicits a stress response. Our sensors located at three different depths inform growers when fertilizers have leached below the root level or burned off. At Teralytic, the 36-inch (91-centimeter) sensor is what we call the money-lost sensor—if your nitrates are down that low below the root-level, you’ve added more than your plants can take up or have been leached, and you have lost money.

Keeping sensors in-ground all season long helps detect the in-season changes that otherwise aren't picked up by one-time measurements.

Real-Time Data Means Real-Time Intelligence

Combining next-generation wireless soil sensors with cloud-based analytics not only allows farmers to better monitor their fields and react rapidly to changes, farmers can look to the future with informed predictions. Artificial intelligence and machine learning technology can act as a smart assistant to surface relevant insights for the farmer, offering actionable insights and making predictions for future fertility.

And with an open API, software developers and third-party companies can combine and integrate Teralytic’s data into multiple sources—such as soil sensor readings, weather, and historical crop data—enabling farmers to finally see the bigger picture via their preferred tools and platforms.

We are entering a new phase of precision agriculture, in which constant monitoring of soil and crop conditions allows growers to adapt strategies to the changing conditions of the field. These new sensors empower the grower to react quickly to maximize output while using inputs more efficiently—saving money and time, allowing the growers to focus on what’s most important for their farm.