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Soil EC mapping technology

With all technology there comes a time when there is a major shift from the old to the new. This usually comes from technology that’s been around for a few years, but either hasn’t been available in mass form, is too expensive or complicated for the average person to afford or hasn’t yet been perfected.

In agriculture, we’ve known about the potential to combine detailed field mapping with variable rate fertilizer application for a few years now. However, it has not yet become a mainstream technology. This is mainly a result of the complexity of the technology and the cost of getting the job done. There are people doing it, and doing it quite well, but for the most part it is not what would be considered a common technology.

There have been some moves made lately between companies like GeoTrends and some John Deere dealers to help bring this type of technology to the mainstream agricultural community. The key to this equation is a soil electrical conductivity (EC) map creator made by Veris Technologies in Salina, Kansas. The Veris pull-type system may be the missing link of commonality in the variable rate system that will help make it the next big thing.

What does the Veris measure

The question is always: “What is this technology and what can it accomplish for me?” The first thing is to understand how the Veris 3100 obtains soil data. The 3100 uses a double array setup and six coulter electrodes to measure soil electrical conductivity. This gives a reading of the varying soil texture qualities throughout the field — the composition of sand, silt and clay in the soil. The system can create this map without soil tests, using the differences in the way different soil textures conduct electricity. Since the Veris 3100 has a double array setup it is able to create two maps: one of the top soil profile (zero to 30 cm), and one of the general soil profile (zero to 96 cm).

The Veris can be pulled behind a secondary tillage implement to combine the field operation with taking the EC measurements. Then this knowledge can be used to implement a strategy for nutrient management.

Using the information

In most cases, soil components can affect the importance of nutrients in the soil, and how those nutrients interact in the soil at the cation level. For example, in lighter soils with less clay composition, nitrogen is much more easily leached through the soil.

The Veris maps also tell you the topsoil depth, which is something that I’m always curious about. The Veris can also provide information about water holding capacity and nitrogen use efficiency.

Once we have this soil information, we can correlate it with other data to create a plan for soil management as well as variable rate fertilizer systems. EC measurements can be very helpful in guiding direct zone soil samples for nutrients. Instead of gridding out a field and taking samples based on distance measurements, you can create zones to reflect conditions in the field, sampling from each zone. This will make dollars and time spent on direct soil samples much more efficient.

This combination of knowledge can make a large impact on your understanding of your soil and how you can create a more profitable crop growing scenario.

Soil EC maps can be compared to yield map imagery to help diagnose possible problems that may not be seen in regular soil nutrient samples. For example, a certain high area may not be producing as well as the rest of the field. A soil EC map would help you to determine if this was the product of an area with shallower topsoil, a difference in soil salinity or even a spot where nitrogen is more easily leached through the soil. Knowledge is power, and the more we understand about our soil, the better we will be able to keep it in the most viable form in the long term.

I believe that this type of technology and knowledge is where GPS and auto steer technology was about six to seven years ago. At that time, the new technology was on the market, but farmers were wary that the price outweighed the benefits. Now GPS and auto steer are becoming standard on almost every farm, even though the technology has only marginally improved — it’s really in the monitors where we have seen the most improvement.

Once we realize how much more efficient we can become once we have a detailed soil map of each field, farmers will really get on the bandwagon and use this technology. I feel it is worth looking at it and getting comfortable with it now — the people who understand this information and how to use it will have the jump on profitability heading into the future. †

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Jay Peterson farms near Frontier, Sask.

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