In the past, agriculture mapping technology focused on appearances and taxonomy. Satellite and aerial data showed topographical features and the color of the topsoil hinted at the composition of what lay underneath. But appearances only run skin deep.
Purdue scientists have developed algorithms that account for how soil in specific locations interact with landscape features like streams and water catchments. These algorithms provide farmers with differences in soils and the minimum number of places required to properly sample field soil. Working from these patterns and soil samples, Dr. Phillip Owens and his team then produce maps with three-dimensional modelling.
Farmers are eager for information at a scale they can use. Our mapping technology marks an important step in taking some of the guesswork out of managing their soil.
– Dr. Phillip Owens
The maps can be powerful decision-making tools, helping farmers determine which crops to plant and how to fine-tune fertilizer applications and irrigation. This increases production while limiting inputs. To make this tool more accessible, Dr. Owens and Purdue have created a mobile app that lets farmers access the maps from the tractor. In addition, they have licensed the technology to a private company to ensure broader distribution.
The maps are also being created in developing countries where less is known about the soil and the margin between successful harvests and starvation can be razor thin.