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Soil mapping tools to understand variability

 

Farming Smarter Project

Timeline: 2011 – 2015

Project contact: Lewis Baarda

Abstract

Farming Smarter found the right questions for this project by asking agronomic consultants, producers, statisticians and economists.

The tractor pulls both the VERIS and the EM-38 at Farming Smarter’s research site taking readings for analysis.

The project will follow the example of an Australian paper by Taylor that shows it is possible to use simple and inexpensive techniques to create maps of within zone variability.  The project will evaluate freeware software, yield information, soil sensors, topography and remote sensing data to assess contribution to crop productivity.

The project will provide a series of recommendations including soil sensor user savvy and buyer awareness, feasible alternatives for management zone delineation, best management practices for within zone problems and an economic assessment of precision agriculture utility.  Although technically complicated, we plan to provide a product that is simple to understand, flexible and sophisticated.  Producers will know what is worth time and money whether working with an agronomist or attempting precision agriculture on their own.

Objectives

  1. Evaluate two sensor-based soil mapping tools (EM38, Veris) for ease of use, accuracy, consistency and utility
  2. Identify and evaluate protocols to delineate soil management zones based on multiple sources of information (farmer knowledge, yield maps topography, remote sensing, soil mapping tools.)
  3. Determine relationships between soil properties, soil moisture availability ad crop yields for identified soil management zones
  4. Identify and test the top recommended management options that could be variably managed
  5. Develop and deliver information to producers through a variety of communications mediums about soil mapping tools and how best to use them.

 

Method

Results

The study showed that EM38 and Veris performance is accurate and consistent over both time and space. Soil EC maps from both sensors were found to be strong indicators of the presence of clay and soil moisture. However, the study revealed that mapped EC data could not be used for a direct estimation of the spatial distribution of plant macro-nutrients (NPKS).

The project tested five different zone delineation methods in each of the 10 fields studied. Zones were delineated using surface geography, grid soil samples, historic yield maps, EC, and composite (yield + EC) methods. All five methods had some level of success at identifying regions that yielded differently from one another. The composite (yield + EC) method was the most consistently effective at differentiating zones of productivity. However, the study was not able to identify a unique yield response to nitrogen for the zones identified. In other words, the optimal rates of nitrogen identified for different zones were not statistically different from one another. The upshot is that although zones derived from various data sources identified regions with consequence for yield, the study could not consistently identify an effective variable nitrogen management strategy for these zones. The study shows that variable rate technology requires a variable approach; there is not a universal method that will be effective in all circumstances. The zone delineation techniques tested had varying levels of success in different fields. Producers should be prepared to develop a specific VR strategy for each field, and are advised to evaluate strategies using methods developed by FS in this study.

Recommedations

Media

Mapping variability Top Crop Manager, March 2016

Nailing down the value of precision agriculture Alberta Farmer Express May 2014

 

Funder

Project Videos

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