Real time soil tests in the field? Science fiction or just over the horizon


Soil analysis is slowly moving from the complex laboratory physical and chemical analytical procedures to the field by adapting rapid and simple spectroscopic methods. Recent developments in spectroscopic instrumentation have reduced the cost and size of instruments, with the newest and cheapest instruments costing only a few hundred dollars.

Article provided by Sean Mason, Agronomy Solutions, as presented at Fertiliser 2017

Take home messages

  • New hand-held and miniature infrared instruments have great promise for use in predicting soil properties in situ in the field.
  • Generally, instrument performance is a case of ‘you pay for what you get’ — the cheapest instruments were the least useful for predicting soil properties, due to the restricted spectral ranges of these instruments.
  • Integration of infrared spectroscopy sensors into commercial soil sampling equipment could offer significant opportunities to reduce the costs of assessment across paddocks and down the profile, improving precision management of soils and subsoils.
  • Two real time examples of specific soil (P buffer index - PBI) and plant (crop N content) measurements taken by IR in the field outline the potential of IR technology.

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