Soil sensors can provide a multitude of information, but not all soil sensors are created equal.

As part of Olds College’s Smart Farm applied research programs, the accuracy and functionality of five different soil sensors and their capability to measure soil properties were evaluated. Daniel Stefner, Smart Ag Research project lead and farm liaison at Olds College, presented findings at Alberta Agronomy Update on Jan. 11.

The overall project list in the Smart Farm’s research program is long, including autonomous agriculture, weather monitoring, remote sensing and monitoring, decision support platforms, and in-field sensor technologies, such as soil sensors.

“One of the things we’re doing is evaluations,” says Stefner, including ease of install, use, troubleshooting, maintenance requirements, and connectivity. The program is also validating soil sensors for accuracy of measurements, testing software, and identifying other problems and solutions.

“We’ve learned that connectivity is very important,” says Stefner, adding that simplicity of setup is key and that maintaining subscriptions — no different than your phone plan — is important. Practicality of installing the soil sensor is also very important says Stefner, as it doesn’t make a lot of sense to disturb or damage soils when using the device.

Stefner says that throughout the research, not every soil sensor device works “as advertised” and that rocks and soil probes don’t often mix, but in the Olds, Alta. area, rocks aren’t much of an issue. Products designed and built elsewhere may not automatically work or suit Prairie conditions, says Stefner in his presentation.

The key learning, Stefner says, is that connectivity is key and that if your phone is having a hard time connecting while you’re in the field, so is the sensor device. Devices that can record while offline are beneficial, he adds.

The Soil Sensor cluster is funded by: Alberta Innovates, Arable, CFI/RCP, ICT International, METOS by Pessl Instruments, NSERC, RealmFive, TELUS, and WD.

More info on the research program can be found here.

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