Analyser system aims to track soil fertility
Before you gather your gardening tools and stick that fork into the ground, have you ever considered the type of soil you have, and whether the minerals and nutrients are adequate for your planting needs?
Healthy soil equals healthy plants. Therefore, the biggest benefits of soil testing is optimising crop production, protecting the environment from contamination by run-off, and leaching of excess fertilisers, among other things.
Nathan Henderson and his team have designed a ‘Soil Check’, soil-analyser system that allows for low-cost, quick, user-friendly testing of soil quality for all major types of soil locally. According to Henderson, an electronic electrochemical testing device checks for elements present in the soil.
“The prototype is a two-part system: a soil-sampling probe, which allows for automated collection of water-based soil samples from farmland, and a centralised testing module, which uses a mixture of chemical and electronics techniques to determine the presence and amount of various elements in the soil – each of which is proven to be important for proper plant growth and function,” Henderson said.
Good management of soil ensures that mineral elements do not become deficient or toxic to plants and that appropriate mineral elements enter the food chain. Soil management is important, both directly and indirectly, to crop productivity, environmental sustainability, and human health.
As a result of the projected increase in world population and the consequent necessity for the intensification of food production, the management of soil will become increasingly important in the coming years.
To achieve future food security, the management of soil in a sustainable manner will be the challenge through proper nutrient management and appropriate soil-conservation practices.
“Proper soil management is essential for crop development and optimising yields. Currently, access to soil-testing facilities is limited in the country, and none that we are aware of offer real time data acquisition, which is one of the strong points of this and other ‘agri-technology’ solutions being developed by the company,” Henderson said.
“The technology may also allow organic (farmers) to better monitor and track the fertility of their soil over each crop cycle. The system can be implemented in hydroponics, as well as the traditional crop-cultivation farms, planting in soil,” he added.
Henderson said that they have been working closely with the Rural Agricultural Development Authority and other local stakeholders with the aim of marketing this and other products, meeting with farmers through established channels, and integrating them into the design and refinement of the final products.
“It can be a challenging route but also a rewarding one. As always, look for a problem or obstacle that people face, and find an innovative approach to meeting their needs and designing a solution that benefits them as consumers and you as the developer,” he said.
The product is being developed as a collaborative effort with Naturalis, an agricultural technology start-up headed by Brandon Campbell, and based in Jamaica.