Precision Soil Mapping

Lead Research Organisation: Cranfield University
Department Name: School of Water, Energy and Environment

Abstract

In order to produce the amount of food required for an ever expanding population, farmers need to maximumise yield while minimising input costs. Precision farming - a concept based on responding to spatial and temporal differences within fields - has been adopted as a key tool by approximately one quarter of all arable farmers in the UK. It is thought that another 25% utilise some precision techniques but are not currently managing the differences within their fields, but rather just recording data. Studies have shown that variably applying seed and fertiliser, based on different soil properties, consistently give positive results. A two year experiment of variable rate nitrogen fertilisation at Cranfield University proved that detailed maps of soil fertility collected with an on-line soil sensor can result in £50 per ha. net profit to the farmer when integrated with data on crop growth. Similarly, research from the Intelligent Precision Farming (IPF), one of AgSpace's software customers, has shown variably applying seed can produce 34% more yield. However, implementation of precision farming has traditionally been a labour intensive process thus making it cost prohibitive for many growers. The current practice of precision agriculture lacks high resolution, low cost soil maps that would enable farmers to manage in-field variations. With current advances in proximal and remote sensing technology and modelling of multi-data resources, it is possible to produce these maps to enable the implementation of advanced precision farming products on a wider scale, making them affordable to a larger market. To increase yields to the levels being discussed by the Royal Society (60% by 2050) requires a collaborative approach.

This large scale collaborative project aims to integrate satellite data with the UK's most comprehensive soil datasets to produce a 'precision soil map'. The map so produces would present an economically viable alternative to current soil survey methods, hile making use of these existing datasets. The level of data and technology available presents a very exciting proposal for arable and vegetable farming to embrace precision farming, enabling them to increase production efficiency, with reduced environmental impacts and at lower input costs. The reduction of environmental impacts will be largely achieved by reducing the amount of agrochemicals applied into the soil, so benefiting ground waters and surface runoff.

AgSpace will provide the raw satellite data for this project, and also ground-truthed data gathered from experimental farms. Cranfield University and the James Hutton Institute will provide access to England and Wales and the Scottish soils datasets, respectively. The project final product is a 'precision soil map' accessible to farmers at a resolution unrivaled in the UK. The new soil management zone map will enhance farmers' understanding of their own soil and will provide an economical route into the implementation of precision farming, which this consortium contends is one of the most important issues in combating yield shortages.

Planned Impact

The project will have impact on sustainable intensive crop production. The main purpose of this project is to increase farm's competitiveness by providing precision soil maps that support improvements in spatially targeted variable rate applications of farm inputs. The integration of data on soil brightness with soil properties (England, Wales and Scottish datasets) will furnish the end users with two new advanced products that will enable exploration of spatial and temporal variation in soil properties, and will allow for precise management of farm inputs, as well as assisting in better Agricultural Land Classifications (ALCs) and other land use assessments. In summary, the approach will offer farmers an innovative and unrivaled level of detail from which to plan their operations.

There is a broad range of stakeholders, with varying and often unexpected levels of potential interest in the results of the current project. The main end-users will be farmers, farming groups and environmental agencies. In addition, service providers (i.e. contractors, precision farming service providers and agronomists) and land managers are expected to comprise the major project stakeholders. Homogeneous application of farm inputs are adopted currently by the majority of farmers (>75%) worldwide. Variable rate applications are expected to result in increasing crop yield, while concurrently reducing environmental impacts by reducing the amount of agrochemicals applied into the environment. The overall economic impact will be an increase in farming efficiency that will affect UK farmers and ultimately farmers worldwide. More profitable agriculture would advantage farmers as well as the wider national economy. It is foreseen that the economic saving due to the lowered amount of inputs applied, together with the increased yields, will overcome demonstrably the cost of adopting the envisaged new precision soil maps.

The research is expected to have a significant positive environmental impact by providing new commercial soil maps, which will enable farmers to reduce the amount of fertilisers they use, by only targeting those areas of the field where there is a need for nutrients. A reduction in fertiliser use would lead to reduced soil and ground water contamination and, therefore, this research will be of significant interest to those concerned with the presence of agrochemicals in the environment. The reduced amount of fertilisers will also reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and global warming potential (GWP), which will have a positive impact on the environment, with reference to the EU framework directive for "A thematic strategy on the sustainable use of pesticides" (COM(2006)372, COM(2006)778). In this context, water utilities, deemed to be a highly influential stakeholder group are likely to be extremely important, given their high levels of interest and influence. Since this project is expected to lead to reduction of water contamination with agrochemicals, it will reduce investment in extracting these chemicals from drinking water. Hence, commercial water companies and the Environment Agency, who are responsible for protecting the ecological status of bodies of water, will also be interested. Other potential beneficiaries from the public sector include Defra who are interested in minimising environmental impact, whilst improving food security. Fertiliser manufacturers will benefit through improving product stewardship and reduction in environmental impacts.

This project is expected to improve the reliability of management zones delineated for variable rate applications of farm input. In addition, it is expected to reduce the cost of site-specific applications by reducing the cost associated with traditional soil sampling and laboratory analyses. Therefore, manufacturers of precision farming hardware and software will benefit because it will improve their product performance and so make these products more attractive to farmers.

Publications

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Hallett, S.H (2017) Smart cities need smart farms in Environmental Scientist

 
Description We are developing our interest in the way that contemporary satellite remote sensing data can be combined, or fused with, historical soil survey information to provide a detailed characterisation of land properties as they relate to agricultural food production. The rise of precision farming approaches offer considerable promise in achieving sustainable intensification of our farming practices in the UK, and internationally, with respect to addressing food security for a growing, urbanised population.
Exploitation Route The project will result in a new information service available to farmers and growers to aid A economically realistic entry point into precision farming approaches. In this way we hope to encourage a new generation of precision agriculture practitioners, able to understand, address and benefit from in-field variation of soil and land characteristics.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink

 
Description The research relates to the development of novel approaches for precision farming and food security. This is a subject of interest in the general public, and accordingly the project has generated substantial press and media interest. The project has been reported in a number of Industry and practitioner media, culminating in a interview on Radio Four Farming Today. These non-academic impacts reveal the extent of the wider interest themes that the project research topic relates to.
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink
Impact Types Economic

 
Description Cranfield University, James Hutton Institute and AgSpace Ltd. 
Organisation AgSpace Agriculture Ltd
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution The Precision Soil Mapping project is an InnovateUK / NERC project supporting the collaboration of Cranfield University, with AgSpacee Ltd. and he James Hutton Institute. The collaboration relates to the assessment of land characteristics across England, Wales and Scotland, based upon the combination of satellite multispectral analysis from AgSpace, and soil resources information from Cranfield (E&W) and the James Hutton Institute (S). The collaboration draws upon the unique skills and resources of the partners to create a novel environmental information service for the farming community.
Collaborator Contribution The team at AgSpace are responsible for sourcing and processing satellite data relating to remote observation of agricultural land, and it's assessment for soil brightness. Cranfield University draw upon their unique soil resources information to help characterise the different soil brightness classifications. The result is a fusion of contemporary satellite data, together with soil survey data, to provide farmers wife and affordable means to undertake precision farming.
Impact The intention is that a new commercial service will be developed to provide access to affordable precision farming soil information for the farming community in England, Wales and Scotland..
Start Year 2016
 
Description Cranfield University, James Hutton Institute and AgSpace Ltd. 
Organisation James Hutton Institute
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution The Precision Soil Mapping project is an InnovateUK / NERC project supporting the collaboration of Cranfield University, with AgSpacee Ltd. and he James Hutton Institute. The collaboration relates to the assessment of land characteristics across England, Wales and Scotland, based upon the combination of satellite multispectral analysis from AgSpace, and soil resources information from Cranfield (E&W) and the James Hutton Institute (S). The collaboration draws upon the unique skills and resources of the partners to create a novel environmental information service for the farming community.
Collaborator Contribution The team at AgSpace are responsible for sourcing and processing satellite data relating to remote observation of agricultural land, and it's assessment for soil brightness. Cranfield University draw upon their unique soil resources information to help characterise the different soil brightness classifications. The result is a fusion of contemporary satellite data, together with soil survey data, to provide farmers wife and affordable means to undertake precision farming.
Impact The intention is that a new commercial service will be developed to provide access to affordable precision farming soil information for the farming community in England, Wales and Scotland..
Start Year 2016