Soil Mapping with Electromagnetic Induction Scanning

Last year we completed a substantial assignment for a large cotton grower in Azerbaijan. Having acquired over 6000 hectares of undeveloped territory in an area with a high water table and issues with salinity, they were aware that a properly designed drainage system would be needed to enable leaching of salts out of the soil and into drains. Over time this will render the soils less saline, improve plant productivity, and allow for more salt-sensitive crops than cotton to be grown as rotation crops. There was also interest in what crops should be grown where, and what fertiliser regimes would be needed to meet certain yield targets.

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The classical approach to soil surveying for such a task is to divide the property up into a grid, and sample soil and groundwater at the grid square intersections, like so.

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Fig. 1: Preplotting soil test sites using a grid generator (PAM software)

The technology for assessing soil type/characteristics without digging holes has advanced to the stage whereby using an Electromagnetic Induction (EMI) probe towed behind a vehicle, a basic map of electrical conductivity can be developed. Soil samples can then be taken from within areas of certain EM characteristics as needed, instead of at regular intervals, potentially saving a great deal of time and money on soil testing of fields with very regular soils, and identifying otherwise undetected variation within a field, down to an accuracy of a few centimetres.

Depending on probe design, scanning may be done at more than one depth; 4 depths is common (e.g. 20,40,60 and 80 cm).

Because electrical conductivity is correlated with many soil parameters of practical importance, such as soil texture, nutrient content, salinity, field capacity/wilting point, Cation Exchange Capacity and so on, we can pre-plot soil sample sites after scanning, and cross-reference soil test results with the EM data to develop quite accurate maps of key soil characteristics. Concurrently, we can map elevation of each square metre of the field.

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Fig. 3 Elevation

 

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Fig. 4 Soil Texture

 

Northern Farm Field Capacity

Fig 5: Field Capacity (Available Moisture at 1/3 Bar)

Field Capacity

Northern Farm Soluble Salts

Fig. 6 Soluble Salts

 

The practical applications of this are:

  • Capacity to design and install a precision irrigation system, to ensure that water is applied according to plant need and underlying soil type in various management zones. Water usage and pumping costs per tonne of product can be brought down accordingly.
  • Determine which soil type zones are suitable for which types of crop.
  • Determine exactly where soil amendments like gypsum should be applied to remediate salinity, with clear demarcations between areas requiring such intervention.
  • Target future annual pre-season soil tests and mid-season tissue tests within clearly demarcated zones based on underlying soil type.
  • Modify seeding rates according to soil type zones, to reduce seed cost/tonne of product harvested.
  • Modify fertiliser application rates according to clearly demarcated soil type zones, to reduce fertiliser cost/tonne of product harvested.

These datasets may be used to develop variable rate seeding or variable rate fertiliser application plans for in-cab computer systems, allowing the operator to have the computer automatically adjusting dosage according to need without manual adjustment.

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Fig 7. Nitrogen Application recommendation, cotton

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Fig 8. Phosphate application recommendations

They may also be used in precision irrigation systems to divide fields up into irrigation management zones based on underlying soil type, and to use data from soil moisture sensors to apply exactly the desired amount of water to each small irrigation zone, even under one pivot.

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Fig. 9 , Variable Rate Irrigation Zone Control (from Valley Irrigation)

 

This has application for drip systems in vineyards and orchards also. The following diagrams were part of a 2016 presentation delivered by Luis Sanchez from major US wine company E. & J. Gallo Winery

Soil Vineyard

Fig. 11: Soil Composition of Vineyard; s= sand sl = sandy loam ls = loamy sand

 

 

Yield Map

Legend Yield

Fig 12: Yield/acre

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Fig 13: Variable Rate Irrigation Design; 96 irrigation zones, 30x30m each, 24.4 acres, Includes Variable Rate fertilisation

 

For more information on how we can map your property and save you money on seed, fertiliser and water pumping costs, and how we can optimise your yield/quality balance in your vineyards to enhance your profits, contact us here

 

Environmental Benefits of GMO’s; Lower Methane Emissions from Rice Paddies

This recently published paper on GM rice designed to abate methane production from the paddy, with its substantial environmental benefits, is fascinating. With rice production trials proceeding in Georgia and with free access to the EU market developing, this is of interest for Georgian irrigators.

One engineering and management reform that eliminates methane production from rice is to abolish paddies and irrigate rice under centre pivots, using the methodology pioneered by US irrigation engineering firm Valmont. This short video gives a good introduction.

This massively reduces maintenance, water and capital costs, as well as allowing sloped land and soils with a low water-holding capacity to be used for rice. However, a key limitation is low overnight temperatures at a key development period of the rice plant; exposure to temperatures below 15 degrees at that stage results in sterility and poor yield. Paddy-produced rice experiences some buffering of temperature effects due to water’s ability to retain heat overnight in the flooded paddy. Pivot irrigated rice does not have this attribute, and so varieties that are cold-tolerant must be selected, planting time carefully planned, and production areas selected where low overnight temperatures during critical development phases are rare. Hence this technology is seen extensively in the subtropical and tropical zones of the Americas, Africa and Asia.

Alternately, genetic modification may produce excellent results in conventional paddy-grown rice.

A concise review from WUWT explains the discovery

Rice serves as the staple food for more than half of the world’s population, but it’s also the one of the largest manmade sources of atmospheric methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Now, with the addition of a single gene, rice can be cultivated to emit virtually no methane from its paddies during growth. It also packs much more of the plant’s desired properties, such as starch for a richer food source and biomass for energy production, according to a study in Nature.

With their warm, waterlogged soils, rice paddies contribute up to 17 percent of global methane emissions, the equivalent of about 100 million tons each year. While this represents a much smaller percentage of overall greenhouse gases than carbon dioxide, methane is about 20 times more effective at trapping heat. SUSIBA2 rice, as the new strain is dubbed, is the first high-starch, low-methane rice that could offer a significant and sustainable solution.

Researchers created SUSIBA2 rice by introducing a single gene from barley into common rice, resulting in a plant that can better feed its grains, stems and leaves while starving off methane-producing microbes in the soil.

The results, which appear in the July 30 print edition of Nature and online, represent a culmination of more than a decade of work by researchers in three countries, including Christer Jansson, director of plant sciences at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and EMSL, DOE’s Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory. Jansson and colleagues hypothesized the concept while at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and carried out ongoing studies at the university and with colleagues at China’s Fujian Academy of Agricultural Sciences and Hunan Agricultural University.

“The need to increase starch content and lower methane emissions from rice production is widely recognized, but the ability to do both simultaneously has eluded researchers,” Jansson said. “As the world’s population grows, so will rice production. And as the Earth warms, so will rice paddies, resulting in even more methane emissions. It’s an issue that must be addressed.”

Channeling carbon

During photosynthesis, carbon dioxide is absorbed and converts to sugars to feed or be stored in various parts of the plant. Researchers have long sought to better understand and control this process to coax out desired characteristics of the plant. Funneling more carbon to the seeds in rice results in a plumper, starchier grain. Similarly, carbon and resulting sugars channeled to stems and leaves increases their mass and creates more plant biomass, a bioenergy feedstock.

The results, which appear in the July 30 print edition of Nature and online, represent a culmination of more than a decade of work by researchers in three countries, including Christer Jansson, director of plant sciences at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and EMSL, DOE’s Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory. Jansson and colleagues hypothesized the concept while at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and carried out ongoing studies at the university and with colleagues at China’s Fujian Academy of Agricultural Sciences and Hunan Agricultural University.

“The need to increase starch content and lower methane emissions from rice production is widely recognized, but the ability to do both simultaneously has eluded researchers,” Jansson said. “As the world’s population grows, so will rice production. And as the Earth warms, so will rice paddies, resulting in even more methane emissions. It’s an issue that must be addressed.”

The master plan

Upon discovery of the transcription factor SUSIBA2, for SUgar SIgnaling in BArley 2, further investigation revealed it was a type known as a master regulator. Master regulators control several genes and processes in metabolic or regulatory pathways. As such, SUSIBA2 had the ability to direct the majority of carbon to the grains and leaves, and essentially cut off the supply to the roots and soil where certain microbes consume and convert it to methane.

Researchers introduced SUSIBA2 into a common variety of rice and tested its performance against a non-modified version of the same strain. Over three years of field studies in China, researchers consistently demonstrated that SUSIBA2 delivered increased crop yields and a near elimination of methane emissions.

Precision Agriculture and the Caucasus

The article below from Foreign Affairs is a very neat layman’s summary of the Precision Agriculture methodology which YFN Georgia uses. It covers the basics of the evolution of GPS use, property and soil mapping, Variable Rate methodology for use of fertilisers and pesticides, tractor and harvester guidance systems, auto-pilot and remote control for tractors, remote sensing with drones and satellite imagery. From Foreign Affairs:

” Today, however, the trend toward ever more uniform practices is starting to reverse, thanks to what is known as “precision agriculture.” Taking advantage of information technology, farmers can now collect precise data about their fields and use that knowledge to customize how they cultivate each square foot.

One effect is on yields: precision agriculture allows farmers to extract as much value as possible from every seed. That should help feed a global population that the UN projects will reach 9.6 billion by 2050. Precision agriculture also holds the promise of minimizing the environmental impact of farming, since it reduces waste and uses less energy. And its effects extend well beyond the production of annual crops such as wheat and corn, with the potential to revolutionize the way humans monitor and manage vineyards, orchards, livestock, and forests. Someday, it could even allow farmers to depend on robots to evaluate, fertilize, and water each individual plant—thus eliminating the drudgery that has characterized agriculture since its invention.”

Some of the basic technologies involved are visualised below. All of them are available to farmers in the Caucasus through our company.

Our tractor and harvester guidance systems start with very simple GPS-powered Farmnavigator systems from Australian firm FarmAgScan, which provide Parallel Guidance, Contour Guidance, Round & Round Guidance, Lightbar navigation, a Virtual Sprayboom, Field perimeter & area measurement, an external GPS, and export to Google Maps™ or Google Earth™. A good basic, robust unit for those starting out in Precision Agriculture.

A more comprehensive Variable Rate controller and Guidance System is the FarmScanAg AgGuide V4,.

This provides:

Comprehensive mapping, for recording, storage, analysis, printing and record keeping for a virtually unlimited  number of farms, fields, jobs, field perimeters, runlines, marked points, spray and weather data, coverage and elevation maps. On-screen and audible notification of important upcoming obstacles (e.g trees, rocks, poles, perimeters) reduces the risk of in-field collisions.

Guidance, including on-screen visual guidance, as well as steering-wheel- motor and full CANBUS and cm accuracy hydraulic auto-steer guidance are expertly implemented, allowing for broadacre, inter-row-sowing and controlled traffic row-crop operations. Racetrack, contour, parallel, and pivot guidance are all included.

Automatic Boom Section Spray and Rate Control (SprayGuide) reducing chemical usage and overlap or underlap. Rate control provides fingertip regulation of application rates.

Record keeping All mapping data is retained indefinitely allowing for full record keeping of all in-field, sowing, spreading, fertilizing, spraying and harvesting operations, as well as printing, area and product cost analysis. This interacts seamlessly with our Fairport PAM Farm Management Software, documenting all operations, seeding, harvesting and chemical applications, via the PAM PDP module.

Implement guidance (RigGuide), controlling tractor-drawn implements track, depth and other activities.

Variable Rate Control (VRC) allowing rate control of up to 4 products including on-screen fingertip control. Different fertiliser blends or pesticide blends can be mixed on-tractor in real time and documented meticulously, and differential seeding rates applied.

‘Laser’-levelling (LevelGuide) controls a grader blade/bucket to replicate and improve upon standard laser levelling tasks – at a fraction of the standard cost and hassle. Single planes can be easily marked with three points, or a combination of points and defined slopes. With the use of companion software or design services, full-multi-plane cut-fill maps can be used with powerful coloured on-screen mapping including contour profiling. Contour banks are also easy to make.

Multi-camera display allows Images from up to 4 cameras can be simultaneously displayed on-screen, with any enlarged to full screen with a simple touch of the finger.

We now, in partnership with a UK firm, are capable of Electromagnetic Induction Scanning (EMI Scanning) of soils to develop comprehensive soil maps accurate to within 5 cm, allowing management zones based on soil types and drainage characteristics to be developed, improving yields and reducing operating costs. Precision irrigation design, where zones are irrigated according to soil type and plant requirement, dramatically improves product quality and reduces water pumping costs.

Soil Map

Once the enterprise is operational, aerial scanning with light aircraft or drones with MultiSpectral Digital cameras yields tremendous data on plant vigour for every square metre of the property and can be used to estimate eventual yield and schedule harvest time. Remote sensing now is becoming so advanced that our British partners are now providing pre-harvest estimates not only of tonnage of apples per hectare but the number of apples per tree!

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While there are environmental benefits to the use of Precision Agriculture methodologies, reducing overuse of fertiliser and pesticides and intelligently planning property development to reduce soil erosion, the key benefit is economic. Typical benefits seen are:

* Higher yields as plants’ nutritional needs are more accurately met.

* Reduced fertiliser, pesticide and seed cost per tonne of commodity harvested.

*Reduced fuel consumption as tractors and harvesters operate as efficiently as possible under guidance.

*Better use of irrigation water and reduced water pumping costs as irrigation water is applied only as and where needed on management zones.

*Higher prices for cereal commodities; correct management of nitrogen and soil moisture results in more wheat growers capturing bread-baking wheat contracts, replacing imports.

*Higher prices for horticultural products like grapes, apples and peaches; careful control over nutrition, irrigation and harvesting time results in higher quality commodity produced at lower cost. Vertically integrated wineries using remote sensing and differential harvesting report increased margins of USD$20,000 per hectare.

The cost of technology is dropping fast; this robust mini-drone, possibly suitable for crop scouting and likely to be able to accept MSDP cameras in the future, may sell for less than $500.

For more details, contact Simon on simon@yfn.com.ge

Russia Blocks Wheat Exports As Recession Likelihood Grows

Russia’s decision to ban wheat exports may have quite an effect on the local price of wheat, and possibly flour, as a result. Georgia imported 77% of its imported wheat from Russia last year, and imports will make up probably 95% of Georgia’s wheat consumption this season (August 2014-July 2015). Domestic production was only 81,000 tonnes last year, and this year is probably less than a third of that due to drought.

As a good deal of Ukraine’s wheat production is in the country’s war-torn east, Georgia is likely to be very dependent upon Kazakhstan wheat shipped across the Caspian from Aktau and railed from Baku to Tbilisi.

Image from Spokeo.com

On Tuesday, the Russian government restricted grain export certificates to a few nations, leaving exports unaffected to Egypt, Turkey and Armenia, reports show, though Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance Service (VPSS) officials deny it’s happened yet. Regardless of whether it’s been mandated yet, analysts say it’s inevitable and though the nation still has an estimated 30 million metric tons of grain available to the export market before key domestic stocks are impacted, it’s a sign that the economic contraction won’t likely go away soon. And, that kind of demand restriction could have long-lasting implications for the nation’s farmers, says Iurii Mykhailov, Agriculture.com correspondent and editor-in-chief of Agribusiness-Ukraine magazine in Kiev, Ukraine.

“I think that the possible ban on the grain export will be introduced because of the sharply increased refinancing rate by the Russian central bank. This means the sharp increase in the interest rate (maybe up to 25% to 30% per annum) so there well will arise big problems for the growers next spring as they will be unable to buy inputs such as seeds, fuel, fertilizers, pesticides, etc., in the necessary volumes,” Mykhailov says of the announcement Tuesday. “So growers either will have to decrease the planting area or to decrease the volumes of inputs per hectare. Either way this means the decrease of the crop.”

The implications of recession unfolding in Russia will be magnified by a federal government that’s unpredictable in its actions at best, Mykhailov says. Continued restrictive economic policy to reverse the economic downturn could have the opposite effect.

“Russian economists start to talk about the collapse meaning it is to late to do anything; regardless of the measures taken, the situation will go from bad to worse,” he says. “The Moscow authorities are absolutely unpredictable. There are proposals in Moscow to ban the possession of hard currency by the population in order to provide the hard currency influx to banks. The authorities may also introduce the mandatory 100% selling of the export income in hard currency (now the requirement is 50%). Also the authorities may cancel the ban on the import food though this again requires the spending of the hard currencies. There are a lot of possible decisions.”

via Russia Blocks Wheat Exports As Recession Likelihood Grows.

Irrigation Water Discussion: Inclusive Growth Dialogue at ISET Policy Institute

ISET Policy Institute on October 23 invited Simon to address representatives of government, NGO’s, industry and academia about issues related to irrigation water access in Georgia.

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The video of the dialogue is presented below. Simon’s commentary can be seen at 1.20 and 20.30

Making ethanol without the need to waste food crops

A very interesting breakthrough. If commercialised, it may dramatically reduce the acreage occupied by grain crops grown for ethanol, and consequently enhance global food security.

maize EU

Watts Up With That?

From Stanford University

Stanford scientists discover a novel way to make ethanol without corn or other plants

Stanford University scientists have found a new, highly efficient way to produce liquid ethanol from carbon monoxide gas. This promising discovery could provide an eco-friendly alternative to conventional ethanol production from corn and other crops, say the scientists. Their results are published in the April 9 advanced online edition of the journal Nature.

“We have discovered the first metal catalyst that can produce appreciable amounts of ethanol from carbon monoxide at room temperature and pressure – a notoriously difficult electrochemical reaction,” said Matthew Kanan, an assistant professor of chemistry at Stanford and coauthor of the Nature study.

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Tissue Testing: Precision Agriculture programme on 2500 Ha of cereal cropping land

This month we will be testing over 2500 Ha of estate as part of our Precision Agriculture programme; tissue testing of wheat and barley crops to guide the farmers on how much additional fertiliser to add in March to crops, and soil testing to plan for late spring plantings of sunflower, mungbean, mustard and canola. Solid NPK and micronutrient will be laid down at seeding.

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By engaging in targetted soil and tissue testing, matched with GPS-enabled datalogging and division of farms up into management plots, we can exactly match nutritional requirements of plants with fertiliser application suitable for the growth phase of the plant and the soil in that part of the property. This results in superior yields and quality parameters, while keeping fertiliser costs as much as 30% below that of conventional  blanket regimes.

We work closely with a US laboratory partner to ensure international standards of accuracy.

We will post pictures and video over the next few weeks to demonstrate how this programme operates.