Soil sensors – soil conditions detectives

Ratnesh Kumar an Iowa State professor of electrical and computer engineering is developing his prototype soil sensors to collect and send data about soil moisture from the ground. Eventually he and his fellow researchers are hoping the sensors will collect data about soil temperature and nutrient content as well as soil moisture.

The sensors won’t need wires or above-ground antennas, so farmers could work right over the top of them. The sensors would also be able to report their locations. That would make it easy to find sensors if a plow were to move them or when batteries need to be replaced.

The sensors are designed to be buried about a foot deep in a grid pattern 80 to 160 feet apart. The sensors would relay data along the grid to a central computer that would record information for researchers or farmers.

The sensors could detect water moves through a field. Eventually they could be used to predict crop growth and yield. And they could help them understand the carbon and nitrogen cycles within soils which are critical to plant growth and healthy development and thus manage their nutrient and water resources. That could maximize yields and profits while minimizing environmental impacts.

Stuart Birrell, an Iowa State associate professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering and a part of the sensor research team, said the project will provide the kind of real-time, high-resolution data that researchers and producers have been looking for.

“A challenge of precision agriculture is collecting data at a high enough resolution that you can make good decisions,” Scott Birrell Stuart Birrell, an Iowa State associate professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering said. “These sensors would provide very high resolution data for producers and researchers. They would give us another data layer to explain differences in yield and help us make management decisions.”
Wireless soil sensors will be tested in a research field later this fall. Photo by Bob Elbert.


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