Today, more than half of the world’s habitable land is used for agriculture. It fuels the economy, a large portion of the supply chain and, most importantly, people. With an ever-growing population, it is crucial to work with crops efficiently.
A critical factor in growing crops is knowing the condition of the soil the crops are growing. However, obtaining field-wide measurements in the agriculture industry can be challenging. Not only can the task be laborious, but it can also become very complex and frustrating to assemble all the collected data. The SAS Hackathon team, ThinkAndDo, wanted to come up with a solution. Using resources from North Carolina State University, the team developed new soil-optics technology that makes obtaining measurements easier and more efficient and can also help reduce operational and labor costs.
Mapping the future of soil data collection
Every field is different. For farmers, it’s important to know factors such as the amount of clay in the soil, the soil color, and the depth of the water table for crop growth. To measure these factors, farmers use various tools, such as a soil sampler, a reconnaissance drone and a measuring wheel. While these tools are tried-and-true ways of collecting data, it is challenging to collect high-resolution information. With the soil-optics sensor, instead of hand-collecting data every couple of acres, there is new information for every six feet. The machine is a passive sensor that collects light reflecting off the soil. The sensor then converts the input into data that shows how much clay, silt and sand are in the ground.
This gives soil scientists a much higher-resolution map of fields than one can get with typical tools. High-resolution imagery of crop growth collected over time plays a role in right-time decision-making, such as irrigation. Streaming that data into real-time irrigation management allows for more efficient uses of resources. And it allows the grower to close the yield gap by acting before a problem arises.
Farmers produce exceptional crops with exceptional data
This more precise information allows the farmers to understand the causes and remedies for fertility loss. The data includes coordinates to show where farmers should apply fertilizer and how much to apply in a specific spot. This helps with in-season decisions depending on the weather and how the crop is fairing. Due to the ease with which soil optics can be used, farmers also can test the soil more frequently to ensure crop health.
The increased accuracy helps farmers manage their land more helpfully and efficiently. The hackathon team’s advancements will hopefully be just a jumping-off point where agriculture technology will continue to improve.