Imagine a potato field in midseason, leaves are fully expanded, tubers have been initiated and are filling out. On your phone you pull up a map of your field, tap on any location and you see the condition of the soil relative to the rest of the field.
Using a combination of soil data, aerial maps, weather and a few in-soil sensors aided by powerful machine learning and AI algorithms, you can access real time data on water, temperature, fertility and even soil organic matter and biological activity, for any point in the field. The program analyzes variability across the field and makes recommendations for precision applications of water and fertilizer.
This “Google of Soil” may be a reality sooner than you think.
Peering into the soil is still heavily dependent on manual sampling, laboratory testing and analyzing all the recorded data. Soil sensors augment manual sampling and provide continuous read on soil conditions instead of sampling snapshots. Aerial imagery provides visual information on variability across crop performance, including water and nutrient stress.
However, imagery alone is past-looking as the crop is already stressed when variations can be seen by this technique. The most promising approach to a true Google of soil is the integration of field specific data on the soil, weather, remote sensing data such as aerial imagery and in-field sensors, using artificial intelligence (AI) to interpolate between the various points around the field and throughout the soil. This integrated approach can be a powerful tool to better understand and manage the variability across fields.
The Google of soil will deliver more precise information with less complex hardware. A good example comes from Cropx. Applying soil hydraulic algorithms, soil data and satellite imagery, Cropx utilizes a single 3-point sensor to create a picture of soil moisture both in a continuous vertical column and at any point on the field. New software will compare problem regions to those with greater yield and help determine the conditions that resulted in better yield and quality.
After centuries of study there is still much we do not know about the soil and how it affects plant growth and, more importantly, how plants adapt to the conditions in which they are growing. Like most living organisms, plants are designed to exploit resources that are most readily available. The crop above ground may be beautifully uniform but below ground it may resemble pockets and strings as roots compete for nutrients and water.
The view of the soil and our ability to get the most out of it will be enhanced by the Google of Soil.