Soil data collection and management get a technology boost

Latest technologies promise to shake up soil data collection and management to improve on-farm decision-making and take efficiencies to a higher level

iScan deep soil mapping module
A prototype of the iScan deep soil mapping module mounted on an Ausplow DBS seeding bar

A local-developed soil analysis technology promises to change the traditional way soil data has been collected.
Soil data has largely been compiled from collecting physical soil samples over summer, further refined in recent times with the use of satellite imagery and various paddock information maps.
Further technologies coming to market automatically collect soil samples and data from thousands of sites in each paddock and offer ongoing tracking of soil measurement changes throughout seasons until the next paddock cultivation occurs.
The soil technology package is being introduced by Carbon Ag Technologies, a collaboration between soil and plant improvement company, Carbon Ag, and agricultural data capture and management business, AxisTech.
AxisTech is also the project developer of an in-ground soil scanning probe.
The technology package includes the iScan deep soil mapping module which mounts to seeding bars to collect measurements every metre as it traverses the paddock.

Using the thousands of data points and associated paddock measurement maps generated by iScan, soil probes are then deployed at numerous targeted sites to provide ongoing, real-time soil measurement monitoring to a depth of 30 centimetres.
Wes Lawrence, of Carbon Ag Technologies and AxisTech, said that used in combination, the systems delivered a unique soil dataset that would better optimise in-season and longer-term product applications and management strategies.

The Carbon Ag Technologies team
The Carbon Ag Technologies team, including (from left) Brad Wisewould, Carbon Ag, Wes Lawrence, AxisTech, and Damon Buckley, who is leading the development of the in-ground soil scanning probe

Wes said the technologies would initially produce paddock maps for soil pH, nitrogen, EC (electrical conductivity) and carbon, as well as provide soil moisture, temperature and bulk density measurements. Other key soil elements will be included in the measurements as the technology further develops.
“Automatic collection and mapping of comprehensive soil pH data at seeding via the iScan unit saves the task and cost of paddock scanning or sampling earlier and offers the opportunity of more accurate variable lime applications and improved data for return-on-investment modelling,’’ Wes said.
“It’s a similar story with soil nitrogen, with the unique dataset, which can be combined with other layers of nitrogen information and management, allowing better optimised variable applications in-season, targeting more responsive zones and maximising efficiency.’’

He said that by combining soil data collected at seeding with ongoing measurements from soil scanning probes, nitrogen management and applications could then be fine-tuned in subsequent seasons.

Climate change applications

It is hoped the Carbon Ag Technologies’ soil organic carbon measurement also will be approved by the Emissions Reduction Fund, allowing growers to gain a soil carbon baseline for their properties. This baseline could then be used for consideration in sequestration projects and potentially the generation of Australian Carbon Credit Units (ACCUs) in the future.
The soil probes provide the ability to track soil carbon levels over time, automatically producing real-time measurements.
Wes said by assisting growers to continually optimise product use efficiency, better manage their natural resources and adapt farming systems to suit changing climatic conditions, the unique dataset could prove beneficial to guard against any future environmental impact regulations.
Several growers have already been involved in the successful testing of the soil measurement technologies.
Rather than requiring a capital equipment investment, Carbon Ag Technologies is set to offer the iScan seeding bar units, soil probes and generation and management of related soil measurement data and paddock maps under a leasing arrangement with growers.
Furthermore, growers also could collate the latest data with their historical soil measurement records from their properties and access up to $10,000 by participating with AxisTech in the Federal Government’s $21 million Historical Soil Data capture program.