NEC06484 UK: mySoil-sample, crowdsourcing digital soil data from industry and policy

Lead Research Organisation: NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology
Department Name: Soils and Land Use (Bangor)

Abstract

There is no life without soil to provide food, feed, fibre and wood. Understanding how soils are changing in response to land use management, climate change, and pollution is at the forefront of environmental research to reduce degradation and deliver vital functions such as, food production, transforming and recycling waste, and storing carbon. We have identified an important market failure that results in the loss of high quality strategic soil data for industry and policy. Farmers collect soil samples every year that they have analysed in commercial laboratories, this data lacks basic location information and is generally collected through paper based systems inhibiting data flows that would stimulate new business opportunities.

Therefore, we will turn farmer's soil analysis into 'smart soil data' to unlock the secrets of the soil. More than 0.5 million soil samples, collected by the farming industry every year are without location information and digitally undiscoverable. 'smart soil data' is digital, discoverable, with gps positioning and accredited laboratory analysis. By making soil data smart we can begin to address the questions for which we need big data, such as why have we reached a yield plateau, and why does yield decline follow crop rotation, is soil carbon stock declining? In order to unlock these secrets we need 'smart soil data'. MySoil sample will address this, a web and app based digital data capture system built on the tried and tested NERC iRecord platform. We will:

i) build a digital data hub for owners to privately store or share industry data, making anonymized data discoverable and interoperable.
ii) a web and smartphone soil sample data collection system with GPS, and
iii) create anonymous digital data pipelines to interpretive benchmarking portals for industry.

This will open up new markets and business opportunities for collecting and using high level anonymized, 'smart soil data'. We call our system 'mySoil-sample', which builds on our success in crowdsourcing soil data using 'mySoil' (4000+ records) and wildlife data using 'iRecord' (50,000+ records).

The new data acquisition system will provide a strategic data resource that will add value to data and inform both industry and policy makers. This is now vital, as Brexit may pose a range of new challenges for farmers and agri-business to remain competitive. There has never been more need to understand how our natural resources can respond to this economic and societal challenge. We will use the power of the crowd (farming and conservation communities), combined with tried and tested NERC digital crowdsourcing data acquisition systems, both web and app based to support industry and policy.

Planned Impact

We are targeting 3 core groups of stakeholders with this innovation with whom to generate impact:

Industry: farmers who test soil and the commercial laboratories who analyse soil

Benefits: online digital data and record keeping, increased efficiency, open interpretive products to help benchmark their performance, high level policy
data and statistics on soils that can provide an evidence base to user groups and unions.

Landowners: e.g. National Trust and major landowners who rent out land for agricultural production

Benefit: online record keeping of soil change across their estates.

Policy makers: who fund nutrient management plans and soil analysis

Benefits: They can see and access data they pay for and use it for high level policy development.

We seek to transform the way the stakeholders operate through the development of the mySoil-sample digital data capture platform. Within 2 years we aim to see 20% of users transferring from paper based records to digital. In 5 years we aim to see the industry moved entirely over to digital data capture for soil sampling. Again in 2 years we aim to be supplying anonymous data to open farmer web tools for benchmarking and interpretive summaries. Through the enhanced data flows we will stimulate now business opportunities both in terms of data collection and interpretation. We seek to stimulate new markets so that more gardeners and allotment keepers will use soil testing. Moreover, we aim to provide UK business with the tools to seek new markets abroad. This may be in Europe and Western countries, but equally it may be in developing countries where the new cyber infastructure, especially for android phones will open up new opportunities.

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