The biggest challenge farmers face is often underfoot – maintaining healthy soil. But there is no direct method for farmers to measure how effectively they are feeding their plants.
Farmers can measure general soil parameters like pH with handheld probes, but detailed measurements require sending soil samples to a commercial lab, which is costly and time-consuming.
The lack of feedback can lead to under- or over-fertilisation, the latter of which can result in ground and surface water contamination.
“We can identify the specific elements, like sodium and potassium, that are in fertilisers,” explains Dr Liang Wang, head researcher on the project.
Wang says unlike a lab soil test, probeCARE will only read ‘free’ nutrients – these are not tied up in the soil and are more readily absorbed by plants.
Improvements on current systems are thus threefold: measurements are cheaper, immediate and give more relevant data to farmers than a lab test.
The small, portable and wireless probes will send data over the mobile phone network from the field to a farmer’s computer. The technology is currently in prototype while CRC CARE secures international patent rights.
– Brett Szmajda