Instant soil sample; just add water

Nitrogen tester | Portable machine saves time and money by providing information in the field

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Do you want in-season soil samples and want them right now?

An Iowa couple did, and set out to build a system that would give them what they wanted.

“We figured it was possible, but there wasn’t a way to do it. So we built one,” said Stacey Sash Schildroth.

The Soilsens was born.

It is a portable soil tester that can be mounted on a pick-up truck or something as small as an all-terrain vehicle. It runs on 12 or 110 volt power and has a built-in GPS that tracks soil sampling locations and pairs them with the soil sample that is being processed.

Soilsens tests for nitrogen levels, typically the most common soil nutrient that producers look for when applying in-season top dressing, says the company.

In the (U.S.) Midwest, producers top dress winter wheat and corn, so knowing what the crop needs based on a soil sample pays big dividends.

Sash Schildroth said the system not only allows growers to analyze a soil sample on site but also eliminates the time and labour it takes to bag, sort and label samples, as well as the shipping and lab time.

“And the fees for each sample,” she said at the Infoag precision farming conference held in Springfield last month. “That’s $5 to $30 per sample, and that adds up and pays for a machine pretty quickly.”

The instant soil tester mixes deionized water with a measured amount of soil to create a slurry that can then be analyzed.

The hardened machine comprises a small computer box with a touch screen display, a pump that measures the water, a precision mixer with replaceable parts and a sensor that has a single season life.

“It costs $99 to replace the sensor, so it is very affordable,” Sash Schildroth said.

The system has a file management program that tracks the location of tests and allows them to be entered.

“You record the field, farm or, if you are an agronomist performing the service, the client’s name,” she said.

“The software tracks the location of the sample and amount of nitrogen that is present.

“From there you make your recommendation on how much might be needed by the crop.”

Testing takes about five minutes from start to finish.

The Soilsens looks for the amount of nitrate ions that are in the soil. It is the same form of nitrogen that is available to plant roots.

The company said traditional soil samples generally show all of the nitrogen that is present in the soil rather than just what is available to the plant at the moment of the test.

Sash Schildroth said testing the soil samples while they are still in the field eliminates the risk of contamination and nutrient loss and allows producers to act immediately to apply nitrogen to their crops.

“You get a parts per million amount and just multiply by four to get a pretty good pounds per acre amount,” she said.

The machine is priced at $9,900.

For more information, contact Sash Schildroth at 319-400-4142 or visit their website www.redshieldtech.com.

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