Site-specific management is an area of geoinformatics (geomatics) that has exploded recently thanks to advances in microprocessor-assisted sensor technologies that can monitor, record and process vast amounts of spatio-temporal data and project that data in high dimension. Fusion of geospatial terrestrial and environmental attributes requires that scientists integrate a broad range of technologies such as geographic information systems (GIS), aerial and proximate remote sensing, the global positioning system (GPS), and geostatistical methods for interrogating soil-water-crop status between two finite points in three-dimensional space. Statistical learning, computer vision, artificial intelligence, and 5G telecommunications networks are rapidly emerging technology backbones that promise to help improve efficiency and to address the deep-seated problems facing the global agricultural sector.

A criticism of site-specific management is that it relies on expensive, sophisticated technology, which is not available to resource-limited farmers. This may be true at one extreme of the continuum, but low-cost solutions exist to capture geospatial information for decision support. We start this page, as always, by presenting some low-cost approaches, courtesy of the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service.

 

Precision Tillage Management

examination of E-horizon precision soil mapping The presence of root restrictive soil zones is a common feature of many southern Ultisols, especially Coastal Plain soils low in organic matter and with sandy, sandy loam, loamy sand textured surface horizons. High strength soil zones may vary with depth, but are predicted by the presence of light-colored, sandy-textured E or EB horizons where the interaction of wheel traffic, tillage, and natural consolidation over time produces a very dense ‘hardpan’. Farmers manage hardpans by deep ripping annually, a power-demanding practice that is, none the less, profitable because of the yield increases realized from it.

Recent advances in GPS/GIS guided systems now offer precision control of field operations. Digital subsurface soil mapping is one solution that would enable energy-saving ‘on-the-go’ adjustments of non-inversion deep ripping equipment. Subsoil shank-mounted ‘on-the-go’ soil strength measurement sensors are another solution advanced by Hall and Raper (2005). Neither approach has spawned commercially viable guidance systems, but a dedicated group led by George Naderman, Extension Soil Specialist (retired), NC State University, continues to advocate the value of digital soil mapping for precision deep tillage. We offer a survey of site-specific, precision deep tillage research from the Naderman and Raper groups, below.

 

topsoil-mappper-front-mounted

  • Geoprospectors Topsoil Mapper (TSM) This Austrian company has developed a  precision soil management tool called Topsoil Mapper (TSM). The technology is based on contactless electromagnetic induction scanning of apparent electrical conductivity (ECa) to infer soil parameters including compaction. The tool can be used for soil mapping or on-the-go tillage control. In principle, a variable depth tillage implement can be controlled in real-time via signals transferred to a tractor terminal via ISOBUS and thereon to the implement. The tool is currently available in North America under the brand name SoilXplorer and co-product DepthXcontrol by distributor AgXtend/CNH Industrial. If you have experience with the SoilXplorer for precision shallow or deep ripping in North Carolina or similar environments, we’d love to hear from you.

 

This short video produced by the Wall Street Journal provides a good overview of the nature and properties of 5G technology in terms of basic microwave theory. It also points out some challenges with the rollout of 5G networks in the U.S. vs. global competitors. The future of digital agriculture and IoT will depend largely on the architecture of 5G communications and the way U.S. technology firms build the infrastructure.