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EIT Researchers Develop Cutting-Edge Soil Tech in New Zealnd

Researchers at New Zealand’s Eastern Institute of Technology are testing cutting-edge technology that it is hoped will significantly improve the economic and environmental outcomes of soil management for the agricultural and horticultural sectors. The new technology measures natural background gamma rays (which are given off by soils) and converts that into detailed soil maps.

The system utilises a Gamma Ray Spectrometer (GRS) mounted on an ATV and takes up to 800 data points every hectare as the vehicle is driven over the ground, measuring the background caesium, thorium, potassium and uranium radiation levels present in all soils. Three or four physical soil samples are taken to calibrate the readings for each block and detailed soil maps are produced resulting in significantly improved soil analysis.

The scans produce maps for physical parameters, such as organic matter, sand, silt and clay percentages, carbon content, soil water holding capacity and plant available water as well as the nutrient values, such as potassium, phosphate, calcium, pH, magnesium, nitrate as N, boron, copper, iron, manganese, sulphur, sodium, and zinc.

The information can be fed into a precision-agriculture enabled tractor to allow variable rate applications so growers can target “inputs” such as seed, fertilisers, water and lime to better meet the crop requirements, save money, improve crop production and meet the ever-increasing environmental requirements.

The research is being conducted by Dr Glen Robertshaw who lectures on the Environmental Management programmes at EIT’s School of Primary Industries. Chris, who is the project lead, and Glen, who is the technical lead, are conducting the research with industry support.

Chris Thorman stated that if this system is validated for New Zealand soil conditions, it could provide growers unparalleled detail of their soils and may help understand how growing operations can be better managed to sustainably protect soils while reducing the cost per tonne of produce.

The global soil analysis technology market is set to be worth US$684 million in 2022 and is estimated to surpass a valuation of US$ 1.26 billion by the end of 2032, expanding at a CAGR of 6.3% from 2022 to 2032. As per a recent industry analysis, revenue from soil analysis technology accounted for around 5.7% share of the global environmental testing market in 2021.

Increasing levels of pollution, as well as natural soil erosion, have resulted in growth in the revenue of the agricultural testing market across the globe. Soil analysis technology helps to improve land quality by allowing for the inspection of the soil with regard to whether the soil conditions are suitable for agricultural activities. Materials such as lime are used in the neutralisation of pH where the soil is acidic. Soil analysis or soil testing services are confined to some specific regions. With advancements in technology, the reliability of off-site soil testing centres will increase in the future.

The roadmap of technology will change and new cost-effective methods for the synthesis of soil testing will emerge. With the rise in industrial infrastructure in rural areas across the globe, demand for soil testing equipment is likely to grow due to concerns about industrial runoffs and waste.

The report notes that growing awareness amongst end users about the quantitative assurance provided by international quality and safety standards is key to the increasing prominence of inspection, testing, and certification services. Such regulations, besides globalisation, are expected to boost the sales of soil analysis technology by 1.8X over the decade.

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