5 Questions to Ask Before Buying a Soil Moisture Meter
Anyone who believes that farmers don’t embrace technology has not seen the inside of a modern farm tractor cab. Growers are always interested in new approaches to tracking and increasing yield, managing inputs/water and keeping the soil healthy. However, this is a lot of buzz about new AgTech solutions and it’s good to examine each technology with a keen eye to ROI and practicality. Before investing money and time in an agricultural technology, growers need to know, is this right for my farm, and the crops I grow? Here are five questions you can ask that will help make good decisions about soil moisture meters.
Is the soil moisture meter easy to set up and use?
Farmers don’t have a lot of extra time during growing season. A soil moisture meter might help them save water, conserve inputs, increase yield or rebuild the soil, but they can’t use it if it requires a large investment of time to install or maintain that it does not save in other ways. Current moisture monitoring is much more than “push it into the soil and read the dial”, these are complete soil monitoring systems that are network connected and designed to remain in place and provide information without direct maintenance during the entire growing season. The AquaSpy soil moisture meter probe installs in the ground with but a few simple steps that ensure reliable, accurate readings. On power-up, the control unit connects automatically and begins transmitting soil moisture, temperature and electrical conductivity (EC) data to AquaSpy servers, where it is analyzed by the software and formatted into easy to read charts, graphs and tables that are pushed to your computer or mobile device. No field calibration or complex field setup is required. The unit requires no further maintenance until end of season when it can be easily removed. The AquaSpy soil moisture meter can also save time by enabling the remote monitoring of plant development, nutrient status, and irrigation control , which can save truck rolls and driving time.
How does the system help to monitor plant health and growth?
AquaSpy gets to the root of plant health. The Active Root Zone (ARZ) is the soil depth that contains most of a plant’s roots at some point in time during the active growth period. A soil moisture sensor can be effective in managing optimal root growth if it can differentiate water uptake at evenly spaced intervals down through the effective root zone for the plant. Using this information, the grower can regulate irrigation to drive water down to a depth just past the current ARZ for the crop, encouraging optimal growth without wasting water. Such precision management naturally avoids allowing the soil to dry past the refill rate when plants have to work hard to obtain water, limiting the energy put into growth. The AquaSpy intelligent plant health probe features 12 sensors spaced at 4 inch intervals to a depth of 48”, proving a rich parallel data set for the AgSpy system to analyze and format into easy to read graphs, tables and charts. Each AquaSpy soil monitoring system is calibrated in our US-based factory for a specific crop, so that it is ready to track the growth of your plants when it arrives at the farm.
Are the moisture readings accurate?
Most moisture monitoring meters only measure moisture. Older systems using conventional capacitance probes have one major deficiency — they cannot separate moisture from electrical conductivity (EC). This will in almost all cases result in a significant error on the moisture measurement. Sensor technologies that can separate moisture from conductivity will provide a more accurate measure of moisture. This moisture measurement is relative moisture and not the absolute moisture available to the plant. Only through advanced algorithms in the AgSpy system can the system calculate how much moisture is truly available to the plant. AquaSpy’s AgSpy intelligent algorithm is capable of differentiating moisture and EC, and provides sophisticated backend algorithms to determine the absolute moisture.
Can the system monitor the effects of fertigation on the roots and track build-up of salts?
The electrical conductivity measurement (EC) can indirectly be used for determining plant health. EC is a proxy for how much salt is present in the soil. Some salts contained in fertilizer can be beneficial, whereas others such as high mineral content irrigation water can be harmful. By carefully monitoring conductivity changes between multiple layers of the soil, the grower can observe application of fertilizer, match fertilizer to the active root zone, and see if there is leaching of fertilizer or unwanted mineral buildup. Different crops have different sensitivities to conductivity which could impede the plant’s ability to take up nutrients. Both the moisture and conductivity (EC) are influenced by the temperature of the soil. Therefore, a reliable system should use the temperature input by layer to compensate the moisture and conductivity reading appropriately. It is not enough to just measure a single temperature point in the top layer of soil. The ideal system should have a temperature measurement for each sensor as the temperature difference from top to bottom can be well over 10 degrees.
The AquaSpy system deploys all of the above features mentioned in a fully automated system.
What are the essential parts of a current soil moisture monitoring system? You should expect to see these components in a reliable, easy to use soil moisture monitoring system:
- A multi-sensor probe that is aligned to crop root depth to accurately measure exact moisture uptake
- A solar-powered control center for each probe that receives the probe data and sends it over the internet to a cloud-based system
- Built-in connectivity; all you have to do is turn the control unit on, it makes the connection with the cloud-based system with no field configuration needed
- Cloud-based central control where the data from multiple probes is received, analyzed and stored
- A powerful graphic user system that displays probe information in easy to read charts, graphs and tables, and allows for different views of the data
- A mobile app having all of the features of the desktop system that can be used in the field
- We design, manufacture and calibrate our AquaSpy systems in the United States, and host our database systems on US-based servers