Understanding Precision Farming and Soil Morphology

The USDA Soil Conservation Service, now Natural Resources Conservation Service, has been charged with creating the country’s soil survey. This survey was designed for broad land use planning. My career was spent mapping soils across the country and that process included identifying soil components within a soil mapping unit. Years were spent digging 30 to 40 holes a day describing soils and developing landscape models for predicting where the soils formed on the landform. The information gathered was then used to create the historical soil survey manuscripts.

Then in 2004, the hard copy manuscripts were entered into USDA NRCS NASIS database and published to the Soil Data Mart (SDM) database. The SDM database contains the soil mapping units, their components, and the component properties for the entire country. Many precision farming web sites and professionals reference the Soil Data Mart soils map, but incorrectly refer to the map unit as a soil type. Using the dominant soil as a soil type is appropriate in broad land use planning, however in precision farming applications, understanding all the soils within the map unit is necessary to correctly identify and understand management zones.

The base image presented below is a SoilWeb soils map displaying a specific field in the lower right hand corner. Inset into this base image are three analyses of that same field, used to identify the various (gross) soil components. The lower right hand corner is the base field soils map presenting two map units: 3401 and 3402. Map unit 3401 is the Longford silt loam, with 1% to 3% slopes. Map unit 3402 is the Longford silt loam, with 3% to 7% slopes. The red X is in map unit 3402 and the focus of this article.

Longford-Silt-Foam-map

When a polygon is chosen in SoilWeb, the Map Unit Composition is displayed. In this case, map unit 3402 contains seven identified components. The dominant component is the Longford series, however the minor components are listed to identify the expected landform position. The estimated composition percentage is an amalgamation of all the 3402 polygons, not the specific polygon. The SCS soil survey was created using maps varying from scales of 1:15,840 (4 inch to the mile) to 1:24,000 (2.64 inch to the mile). The NRCS has standardized the mapping scales to 1:12,000 and 1:24,000. Precision farming mapping uses much smaller scales of 1:2,400 (26 inches to the mile), or greater.

Although the mapping scales and precision farming scales are significantly dissimilar, information can be gleaned from the soils database to aid in precision farming prescriptions. In a very simple analysis, this field used the Veris Technologies mapper to intensively map the soils using electrical conductivity (EC). EC mapping is a common method of mapping the differences of the soils within the field. Analysis of the Veris mapper data can help predict changes in the soils across the field.

The lower left image is the Veris surface-to-subsoil ratio combined with the five-year crop yield data. The red dots being the lowest values (less variation, highest yields) and the purple dots being the highest values (greatest variation, lowest yields). The soil morphology is homogenous in the red areas and dissimilar in the purple areas. These are clues used to differentiate the various components within the field or within the map unit.

The upper left image is a Veris analysis of only the surface-to-subsoil readings ratio. The red are those with a low EC ratio and green being the high EC ratio. Using the stoplight legend allows for grouping of similar EC points. These various analysis of EC mapping, yield mapping, along with information gleaned from the NRCS soils map database, contains enough information to sufficiently separate the various soil components. The computer analysis provided clues for areas to ground truth the soil type.

The upper right hand image is the gross soil type or soil component map. That map was created to identify field sample sites. Visiting the site to dig holes is needed to understand the soil morphology. This is as important as collecting samples for soil fertility in the upper 6 inches. The soil profile provides clues both in the history of the soil and the answers as to plant productivity.

Longford-soil-images

Understanding the soil morphology is necessary to determine the cause and effects of crop selection and production. The soil morphology explains potential troublesome soil properties. In the soil photos above, the range in the EC readings can be used to identify the natural Longford, the eroded Longford, the higher clay content Crete soil, the toeslope Longford with its higher organic matter and clay content, and the Hobbs soil with its increased organic matter and homogenous silt loam profile.

There are many stories that can be gleaned from understanding the soil morphology. For example, this field has been in no-till for eight years, however the morphological evidence shows the scars still exist from the many decades of tillage. Take the time to use the NRCS soils database to identify the clues used in prescriptive farming.

For more information on analysis of the SSURGO database for precision farming, contact Paul R. Finnell at [email protected] or visit prairiehillssoilsconsulting.com or LinkedIn.

Topics:

Leave a Reply

Data Management Stories
Farmer-Tablet
Data ManagementAgriculture’s Next Breakthrough: New Technologies Are Driving Efficiency, Data Insights
July 3, 2018
We live in an exciting time in agriculture. Not only is technology advancing rapidly, but the understanding and comprehension of Read More
Data ManagementThe Most Overlooked Asset in the Agtech Revolution
June 25, 2018
There is no doubt that advancements in genetics, precision agriculture, and innovative farming practices have all played an instrumental role Read More
Soil-Corn-plants-field
Data ManagementRemote Soil-Sensed Management Zones Help Increase Crop Input Efficiency
June 18, 2018
Accurate prescription maps are essential for effective variable rate technology (VRT) fertilizer application. Grid soil sampling is frequently used to Read More
Data ManagementChecking the Box: FBN Garners Ag Data Transparent Certification
May 30, 2018
Farmers Business Network (FBN) recently completed Ag Data Transparent (ADT) third-party certification, affirming that the FBN network’s data and analytics Read More
Trending Articles
ISPA-Yoshua-Bengio
EventsHighlights from the 14th International Conference on Precision Agriculture
July 9, 2018
The 14th International Conference on Precision Agriculture (ICPA) presented by the International Society of Precision Agriculture (ISPA) was held in Montreal, Read More
Topcon X30 Console in cab
EventsAssociation Seeks Definitive Definition of “Precision Agriculture” — What’s Your Vote?
July 2, 2018
More than two-dozen definitions of precision agriculture have been identified through the years — but which is the best and Read More
AmericasRaven Name to Grace New South Dakota State University Facility
June 27, 2018
According to a press release issued by the company, Raven Industries was recognized today in the naming of South Dakota Read More
dropcopter
DronesNew York Apple Orchard Claims World First in Pollination by Drone
June 18, 2018
Beak & Skiff Apple Orchard in LaFayette, NY, is the first orchard in the world to use drones to pollinate Read More
JDandPessl
Sensors/IoTJohn Deere, Pessl Instruments Team Up to Create Opportunities
June 18, 2018
John Deere is best known for its line of tractors, combines, sprayers, and implements. However, in an effort to help Read More
Matt-Waits-featured
Decision Support SoftwareSST’s Matt Waits: Innovative Data Solutions Key to Transforming Global Agriculture
May 31, 2018
Proagrica, part of RELX Group, earlier this year acquired U.S.-based precision agriculture solutions company, SST Software, in a move set Read More
Latest News
Industry NewsFarmobile Acquires Prime Meridian, Taps Cubbage as New …
July 13, 2018
Farmobile today announced an agreement to acquire the assets of Prime Meridian, a precision agriculture data management company based in Read More
group-photo
DronesPrecision Agriculture Takes Flight at North Carolina St…
July 13, 2018
Take a walk into the Suggs Laboratory for Precision Agriculture and Machine Systems and it’s hard not to be impressed, Read More
Skeketee-IC-Weeder
DronesAutomated Weeders Have Arrived in Vegetable Fields
July 12, 2018
The vegetable production areas of the Central Coast of California have lifted vegetable cultivation to a high art, writes Richard Read More
AgJunction, InfoAg 2014, Autosteer, GPS
Industry NewsAgJunction Settles with Raven in Patent Infringement Su…
July 12, 2018
AgJunction Inc., a leader in advanced guidance and autosteering, has settled a patent infringement lawsuit it filed against Raven Industries, Read More
Retailer-Grower-tablet
Business ManagementTaking Measure of the Precision Agriculture Program: 6 …
July 12, 2018
In the overall agriculture market, the rhetoric surrounding emerging technology over the past half-decade has been nothing short of breathless. Read More
raven-slingshot-job-generator-job-sync-1
Industry NewsNew Raven Slingshot Advancements Will Help Save Time, R…
July 11, 2018
Raven Industries, Inc. has announced several new services available on the Slingshot and Viper 4 platforms: Job Generator and Job Read More
Onsite-logo
Industry NewsAgIntegrated Acquires Exclusive Licence to Satshot’s Im…
July 11, 2018
AgIntegrated, Inc. (AGI), a leader in precision ag data integration and software development, and Satshot, a leader and pioneer in Read More
Australian Harvest
Australia/New ZealandAustralian Agritech Plants Blockchain for Efficiency
July 11, 2018
“Agritech” at one time would have meant new equipment such as tractors and combine harvesters, but today it refers to Read More
Tomato-crop-India
AsiaIndia: Using Artificial Intelligence for the Good of Fa…
July 11, 2018
After graduating from IIT-Madras, the first thing that Vivek Rajkumar did was to buy four acres near Thiruvananthapuram and start Read More
BrightFarms
Industry NewsForbes List of Innovative Ag-Tech Companies Includes Gr…
July 9, 2018
Forbes magazine recently posted a list of the 25 most innovative ag-tech startups in 2018, which includes a few companies Read More
AmericasNutrien Ag Solutions Brand, New Digital Platform Launch…
July 9, 2018
Nutrien (formerly Crop Production Services) has officially rebranded its retail business to Nutrien Ag Solutions, aligning the company’s retail operations Read More
ISPA-Yoshua-Bengio
EventsHighlights from the 14th International Conference on Pr…
July 9, 2018
The 14th International Conference on Precision Agriculture (ICPA) presented by the International Society of Precision Agriculture (ISPA) was held in Montreal, Read More
TerrAvion
Industry NewsTerrAvion Integrates Aerial Imagery with John Deere Ope…
July 6, 2018
TerrAvion, Inc., a large volume provider of aerial imagery to agriculture, has announced an integration to allow TerrAvion’s aerial imagery Read More
Farmer-Tablet
Data ManagementAgriculture’s Next Breakthrough: New Technologies…
July 3, 2018
We live in an exciting time in agriculture. Not only is technology advancing rapidly, but the understanding and comprehension of Read More
Nebraska-Storm
Precision IrrigationNotes from the Field: A Look at Irrigation Management P…
July 2, 2018
One of the things I love most about my work is making periodic treks into the field – more often Read More
Topcon X30 Console in cab
EventsAssociation Seeks Definitive Definition of “Preci…
July 2, 2018
More than two-dozen definitions of precision agriculture have been identified through the years — but which is the best and Read More
Industry NewsAg Equipment Manufacturers: 3 Trends to Shape Farming G…
July 2, 2018
Bottom line instead of brand loyalty. Tractors and harvesters will look more like computers. Data will drive productivity. These are Read More
Ag Retailer and Growers with tablet WinField United
Service ProvidersPrecision Ag Technology: Act Like You’ve Been There Bef…
July 2, 2018
One of my dad’s favorite, albeit borrowed, sayings was, “Act like you’ve been there before.” He was mostly referring to Read More