Soil Sensors: A New Direction in Precision Agriculture to Improve Crop Production

Sensors
As wireless sensors become smaller, less expensive, and easier to use, farmers are beginning to deploy them
in greater numbers to better detect the wide-ranging soil conditions across their fields.

As any farmer can attest, agricultural fields and the crops that grow on them are dynamic.

Over the course of any growing season, the conditions of the soil change constantly, impacted by weather, row traffic, crop production patterns, and more. At the same time, the plants growing in the soil are constantly changing and adapting to this dynamic environment — with roots and shoots expanding in areas most conducive to growth. This dynamism is becoming more evident as advancements in crop imaging illuminate shifting stress zones and yield maps that illustrate wide fluctuations from year to year. To help farmers adapt to these ever-changing conditions above and below the ground, precision ag is also becoming more dynamic in three specific areas.

Digging Below the Surface

For most farmers, collecting hard data from the field is still largely a manual process, involving scouting and collecting soil and plant samples. These samples are then sent to a lab for testing, which may take days or even weeks. Yet recent developments in field-based sensors are shrinking these timelines and delivering real-time measurements from the field to help farmers make faster, more actionable crop production decisions.

Many farmers who experiment with sensor technology for the first time may begin with soil maps of the static variability in a field. This is just the beginning. By condensing field variability into trackable management “blocks,” farmers can use sensors to monitor specific sections of the field and react rapidly to changes in land and crops. Smaller, less complicated sensors are beginning to make this possible, with plug-and-play technology that eliminates challenging installations and does not impact production processes. Software developers with experience from the consumer world are developing intuitive interfaces (think iPhone screens and apps) that allow farmers to quickly browse critical data flowing from these sensors. Meanwhile, manufacturers are integrating data from multiple sources — such as soil sensor readings, weather, and historical crop data — helping to turn all of this information noise into actionable insight so farmers can finally see the bigger picture.

Eliminating the Guessing Game

Advances in irrigation have the power to drive crop production to new heights. Worldwide, only 20% of agricultural land is irrigated. Yet this land yields 40% of the world’s crops. Soil-moisture sensing and the rise of smart irrigation is the crux of the smart farming revolution and will drive a new era of connected soil. As farmers start to put sensors down into the soil, the industry is learning how to refine irrigation techniques to meet specific soil needs. For example, many farmers use the design parameters of their pivots to manage irrigation. They design the application rate to match the average maximum demand of the crop and simply turn on the water. Thus, they supply close to the correct amount of water during peak season and over-water in early and later parts of the season, not accounting at all for variations in the field. The use of sensors helps them manage seasonal water application, applying less early and late in the season. If sensors are deployed in several areas of the field, they can direct differential irrigation rates, creating uniform soil moisture, reducing water use, and improving overall yield.

But soil sensing is certainly not without challenges. Soil is never uniform across a field — let alone a farm or region — and this variability is often magnified at the sensor level. As sensors become smaller, less expensive, and easier to use, farmers are beginning to deploy them in greater numbers to obtain a more precise and dynamic picture of what is happening in the field. Multiple sensors statistically improve accuracy — and only through multiple sensors can one track the dynamic changes relative to variability across the field. For example, a wet area in the spring may become dry in relation to other sections as the crop grows and depletes the water. In-field, sensor-based measurements are expanding to provide new, more granular details, such as moisture levels, salt concentration, fertilizer efficacy, and plant response to variables, including canopy temperature and light. This enables farmers to take real-time actions when a field condition, such as low water levels, elicits a stress response.

Driving Smart Decision Making, Real-Time Analysis

The soil and crop ecosystem is one of the most complex interactions in nature. A key to demystifying this complex dance and unlocking actionable data is harnessing the power of cloud computing. This is becoming increasingly possible, as moving farm data to the cloud becomes easier.

The Federal Communications Commission has identified rural connectivity as a growth engine and is expanding programs to improve rural coverage. Meanwhile, cellular companies seeking business opportunities in farm Internet of Things (IoT), such as AT&T and Verizon, are expanding their coverages in ag-focused areas. Additionally, cellular modems and mesh radio communication systems are becoming more cost effective, and companies are developing integrated systems that combine sensors and communication into seamless bundles. This will drastically improve the quality of the data flowing to the cloud and, in turn, the accuracy of the resulting insights.

We are entering a new phase of precision ag, in which near real-time sensing of soil and crop conditions can be used to adapt strategies to the changing conditions of the field. Sensors empower the farmer to react quickly and dynamically to maximize both output and inputs relative to crop performance.

Leave a Reply

3 comments on “Soil Sensors: A New Direction in Precision Agriculture to Improve Crop Production

  1. Excellent write up. We are a provider of a brand of equipment and utilize several devices in our own farming operations. We have seen improvements in production and no more guessing on soul moisture’s etc. Couldn’t agree more with this article.

Sensors/IoT Stories
Sentera-Gimbaled-Quad-Sensor
Sensors/IoTSentera Gimbaled Quad Sensor Optimizes Crop Health Data Capture
August 7, 2018
Sentera’s Quad sensor is now available in an integrated gimbal-stabilized package for DJI Inspire and Matrice drones. Featuring four fully-customizable Read More
Bergwerff-in-field-weather-stations-and-Ranch-Systems-radio-control-module
Industry NewsRanch Systems, IoT Provider Aeris Announce Collaboration Agreement
July 25, 2018
Aeris, a technology provider in the Internet of Things (IoT) space, said today it is collaborating with Ranch Systems of Read More
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
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
Trending Articles
Geosys
Industry NewsUrtheCast to Acquire Geosys from Land O’Lakes in $20 Million Deal
August 15, 2018
UrtheCast Corp. and Land O’Lakes, Inc. today announced they have entered a binding term sheet for the purchase of Geosys Read More
1 On 1 With Paul Schrimpf: Simplot’s Allan Fetters
PrecisionAg InstituteOne on One With Simplot’s Allan Fetters
August 8, 2018
Allan Fetters of PrecisionAg Institute partner Simplot Grower Solutions talks about techology trends and key learnings from the recent InfoAg Conference in this exclusive interview with PrecisionAg's Paul Schrimpf. Read More
PrecisionAg InstitutePrecisionAg Institute Whitepaper Library
August 1, 2018
Welcome to the PrecisionAg Institute Whitepaper library! Here you will find free whitepapers and case studies from the PrecisionAg Institute Partners Read More
AmericasIntegrity Ag Group: People Over Precision
July 30, 2018
It’s not every day that this reporter walks into the office of a precision ag dealer, sits across from the Read More
farmer-tractor-tablet
Systems ManagementWhat is Digital Farming — Really?
July 24, 2018
The agricultural community has spent several years synthesizing an operational description for digital farming. In several cases, there have also Read More
Data ManagementInfoAg News: Farmobile Launches DataEngine, Streamlines DataStore Buyer Process
July 17, 2018
Busy times these days out in Leawood, KS, for ag data startup Farmobile, as they continue to – pardon the Read More
Latest News
John Deere Operations Center
Data ManagementMaximize the John Deere Operations Center for Your Cust…
August 16, 2018
Today’s farming operation looks different than it did 20, 10, even just a few years ago. Technology continues to shape Read More
Service ProvidersNew Ag Retail Survey Identifies Key Business Challenges
August 16, 2018
From commodity prices and competition for business to future-proofing the operation, ag retailers shared their challenges and concerns in a recent survey conducted by Proagrica. Read More
WinField’s Joel Wipperfurth On Empowering Data-Driven Decisions
InfoAg ConferenceOne on One with Joel Wipperfurth, Winfield United
August 15, 2018
Winfield United's Joel Wipperfurth discusses ag technology trends and topics during last month’s InfoAg Conference. Read More
Geosys
Industry NewsUrtheCast to Acquire Geosys from Land O’Lakes in …
August 15, 2018
UrtheCast Corp. and Land O’Lakes, Inc. today announced they have entered a binding term sheet for the purchase of Geosys Read More
Harvest
Data ManagementAre You Ready for This Year’s Digital Harvest?
August 15, 2018
As the days in the Northern Hemisphere slowly get shorter, they are getting longer in the Southern Hemisphere and everywhere Read More
Wheelman-Pro
Industry NewsAgJunction Expands Automatic Steering Market to Smaller…
August 14, 2018
AgJunction, the autosteering company, has introduced Wheelman, a new way for farmers to automatically and accurately steer farm equipment at Read More
Drip-irrigation
Precision IrrigationFertigation as a Precision Agriculture Tool
August 14, 2018
Fertigation is a fertilizer application method in which dissolved fertilizers are delivered to the crop through the irrigation system. This Read More
Events5 Reasons You Should Attend Growing Innovations
August 13, 2018
The specialty crop market is wracked by unprecedented change: labor scarcity, water shortages, pressing demands for increased quality and transparency Read More
Data Science tablet
Data ManagementMicrosoft, Agile Networks Detail Central Ohio Broadband…
August 9, 2018
Agile Networks, a leading provider of telecommunications solutions, and Microsoft Corp. has announced a new agreement to bring broadband internet Read More
AmericasIvy Tech Opens Center of Excellence to Train Tomorrow&#…
August 9, 2018
Students interested in careers in precision agriculture equipment technology or diesel technology now have the opportunity to pursue certificates, technical Read More
1 On 1 With Paul Schrimpf: Simplot’s Allan Fetters
PrecisionAg InstituteOne on One With Simplot’s Allan Fetters
August 8, 2018
Allan Fetters of PrecisionAg Institute partner Simplot Grower Solutions talks about techology trends and key learnings from the recent InfoAg Conference in this exclusive interview with PrecisionAg's Paul Schrimpf. Read More
Corn field sunset
Industry NewsTrimble RTX Correction Technology Now Delivers Two Cent…
August 7, 2018
Trimble has announced that its Trimble RTX GNSS corrections technology can now achieve horizontal accuracies of better than two centimeters. Read More
Sentera-Gimbaled-Quad-Sensor
Sensors/IoTSentera Gimbaled Quad Sensor Optimizes Crop Health Data…
August 7, 2018
Sentera’s Quad sensor is now available in an integrated gimbal-stabilized package for DJI Inspire and Matrice drones. Featuring four fully-customizable Read More
BigDataSmall2
Data ManagementPrecision Agriculture: A Smaller Approach to Big Data
August 7, 2018
Big data is one of the most buzzed-about concepts in our industry. Rarely do we read a newsletter, attend a Read More
Grower-Retailer
Industry NewsAgworld, K-coe Isom Form Strategic Partnership
August 6, 2018
Agworld and K-coe Isom have announced a strategic partnership that will see them integrating business advisory and technology to deliver Read More
Industry NewsAgEagle Acquires Agribotix
August 6, 2018
AgEagle Aerial Systems has signed an agreement to acquire substantially all of the assets of Agribotix, a Boulder, CO-based drone-enabled Read More
Digital-Farming
Systems ManagementImplementing Digital Farming’s Five Major Needs
August 2, 2018
Building a house starts with a plan and then a foundation; it does not start with doors and windows. From Read More
PrecisionAg InstitutePrecisionAg Institute Whitepaper Library
August 1, 2018
Welcome to the PrecisionAg Institute Whitepaper library! Here you will find free whitepapers and case studies from the PrecisionAg Institute Partners Read More