Soil sensing: improving agronomy from the ground up


Soil sensing is a precision agriculture method used to improve agronomy by identifying opportunities to manage variability.

Dr. Athyna Cambouris is a soil scientist and researcher with Agriculture and Agri-food Canada (AAFC) at the Quebec Research and Development Centre, focused on precision agriculture and using soil sensing to improve agronomy.

Cambouris says that grid soil sampling can provide a detailed field-level map of soil variability, but it’s time consuming and requires a lab for analysis. Using technology, including mapping electrical conductivity (EC) of soil, can collect soil data quickly without having to collect samples.

Data collected through sensors is then used to create a field map, making it easier to hone in on field variability. From there, Cambouris says the areas of variability can be sampled to determine the characteristics of the outlying EC measurement. The soil sampling provides an in depth look at what can be adjusted to create a consistent soil environment.

So what does the EC measurement tell us? Cambouris says EC measurement tools were invented in California to determine areas with high salt content where yields would be lower. EC is related to salt properties, and soil with a higher EC measurement has a higher moisture level and soil with lower EC has less moisture and is likely more sandy. Cambouris says EC data can be compared to yield data to determine the relationship between soil variance and yield.

Cambouris says agronomists using soil sensing can provide growers with information on soil management for specific areas. She gives the example of EC data showing inconsistent moisture levels on a field with a precision irrigation allowing the farmer to adjust the system to provide proper moisture to the whole crop.

Cambouris says one barrier preventing this soil sensing method from being widely used is the time it takes for growers to have this data collected. She points out that this type of data only needs to be collected once, meaning growers can spend the time on getting the data and applying solutions once and not have the concern again. A second barrier Cambouris mentions is the lack of agronomists who understand how to interpret the EC data and give farmers suggestions to improve agronomy.

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