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Why Vertical Crop Monitoring is Essential to Regenerative Agriculture

The concepts of regenerative agriculture are oriented toward building healthy soil

A farmer’s day may be different every day during the growing season but the one constant is that each day is dedicated to doing what needs to be done for a healthy crop. Today’s growers also know that they are the custodians of the soil they farm. Our planet’s population depends on their willingness and ability to reverse the damage that some traditional farming practices have done to the soil, while maintaining and even increasing production of food. The concepts of regenerative agriculture are oriented towards building healthy soil. They include little or no tilling, crop diversity, crop rotation, cover crops and careful management of moisture and plant nutrients.

Implementing principles of regenerative agriculture requires specific and timely information about the soil and the condition of the current growing crop. Some of the popular methods include field mapping or installing soil moisture sensor systems that measure a variety of soil or moisture properties. What farmers need to think about is this: how much time will it take me to implement this and learn it? How will it help me cut down on my daily activities? How will it increase my profitability?

An important converging technology that works with regenerative agriculture is the Internet of Things (IoT). Data from “connected” soil moisture meters and other smart sensors deployed in the field is relayed in near-real time over the Internet to database systems where it can be analyzed and presented to the grower in easy to understand formats. This puts the farmer in touch with what is really happening in his/her fields, so that reliable low risk decisions regarding crop inputs can be made and implemented.

What is vertical active root zone measurement (ARZ)?

AquaSpy works by taking a vertical approach that measures active root zone. Root zone depth is the depth within the soil profile that crop roots can effectively extract water and nutrients for growth. Root zone depth influences soil productivity significantly. The USDA sets 150 cm (just under 60 inches) as the approximate root zone depth for any crop. But that generic number doesn’t tell us enough. In further inspection, crop types each have a specific root zone depth.

Further, crops don’t occupy the whole root zone depth the entire time during the span of their lifecycle. This means that for precise soil moisture analysis according to what the plant needs at a given point in time, the moisture analysis must align with what depth the crop roots lie in at that point. This should be adjusted by crop type since the root depth of a potato isn’t the same as that of say a nut tree.

AquaSpy looks at this active root zone (ARZ) as the area adjacent to the specific crop’s roots at each stage in the growing lifecycle. The system monitors the ARZ in discrete 4-inch soil sections accurately enough to profile the uptake of water and nutrients at each section. With this information the farmer can readily see how deep the roots are and whether or not irrigation is being effective level by level. When a field reaches field capacity, runoff occurs. Valuable water and potentially valuable nutrients are wasted. As plants grow, they take up more water which, if not replenished, drives the moisture level to a point where the plant has to work harder to draw water from the soil. This moisture level is the basis of the Refill level. Fundamentally, ARZ management is a process of maintaining moisture levels under field capacity and over refill for the entire current depth of the roots. AgSpy takes the guesswork out of defining the real ARZ, which is critical to effective management. The right amount of water at the right time for optimum yield and profitability.

Nutrient monitoring with AgSpy

The AgSpy system also monitors and reports electrical conductivity, or EC. This can be used indirectly to estimate how much salt is present in the soil. By comparing each zone to other zones as nutrients are added, the effective penetration of nutrients into the soil and the positive effect on plant growth can be monitored. These data are also useful for detecting a buildup on salt in the soil, which can be harmful to crops if not controlled.

Meeting the needs of a global population

By some estimates the world population will exceed 10 billion people by 2050. Nearly 60% more food will be required to feed this population. At the same time, Green house gas emissions from agriculture must be reduced. There is relatively little available land that can be readily converted to agriculture, especially without depleting vital rainforest ecologies. And as previously mentioned, the depletion of the soils must be reversed. While more efficient food distribution and global changes in diet can help reduce the pressure on farmland, growers will have to grow more on the lands they have to farm. Double-cropping, aggressive rotation and per crop yield enhancement can be achieved with advanced crop health monitoring tools such as AgSpy.

AquaSpy has over 10 years of experience working with farmers and we know that they don’t want to spend time away from what they do best, which is being in the field, doing actual farming. That’s why AgSpy is the easiest, and most affordable, solution out there that improves crop consistency and quality, and actually saves the grower time. Unlike field mapping which gives you a picture of a point in time, or traditional soil moisture meters which take time to manage and extract useful analysis from, AquaSpy put together an end-to-end solution that gives you real answers, each and every day.