TechTour: Soil sensor enables real-time variable depth tillage

A soil sensor that can detect compaction from above the ground in real-time is enabling a concept described as “variable depth tillage” for targeting compacted layers.

The Topsoil Mapper made by Austria-based Geoprospectors is an example of a real-time sensor allowing farmers to account for variability as their tractor passes through a field, rather than using one setting for an entire field.

The device, which can be mounted on the front of a tractor, uses electrical conductivity (or EC) to record and map compaction, soil type, relative water content and other soil characteristics at multiple depths up to 120cm deep, says Michael Kopecky of Geoprospectors.

Michael Kopecky, Geoprospectors

“From those values we can deduct different structures in the soil. We will find compaction at different depths and transmit those depths to the cultivator at the rear of the tractor,” he explains in this TechTour episode filmed at Agritechnica 2017 in Hanover, Germany.

The soil information is instantly communicated to software in the tractor and the tillage implement behind it through an ISOBUS connection, automatically adjusting the cultivator depth to target the compacted layer. (A separate company sells a kit for retrofitting tillage equipment that isn’t ISOBUS-ready.)

“If there is no compaction, and there is no need for tillage, you move the equipment out of the soil. If it’s in that range, you only go as deep as you need.”

Using a fuel consumption rule-of-thumb of 1 litre/hectare/centimetre of depth, he says the fuel savings from variable depth tillage are significant.

Kopecky says the EC sensor can be used throughout the year, even on frozen, snow-covered ground, and can be attached to any machine or vehicle for mapping purposes.

In addition to adjusting tillage for compaction, there were other exhibitors at Agritechnica demonstrating how they use the technology to adjust rates at seeding based on soil characteristics and to measure water availability to predict yield potential, informing fertility and other crop management decisions.

Together with the required hydraulic modifications, the front-mounted sensor sells for around C$45,000, says Kopecky, noting there’s currently one unit on its way to Canada.

RealAgriculture’s coverage of Agritechnica 2017 is brought to you by Dow AgroSciences.