The Canada Land Initiative and National Soil Database hold massive volumes of valuable agriculture information.
Unfortunately, nobody could access it until agronomist Simon Knutson took matters into his own hands.
The Manitoba entrepreneur didn’t like the idea that a valuable, publicly funded database was not available to the public.
There were no legal restrictions on the information, but it was useless in raw form.
To rectify the situation, the proprietor of GIS4Ag put the information into a format accessible on iPad, iPhone and Android. Knutson says the government database doesn’t run on those popular devices.
“I created the maps to hopefully provide a valuable service to anyone looking for information about agricultural soils of Western Canada,” says Knutson, who is not being paid for his work.
Most people using the maps are farmers, crop consultants, real estate people and land assessment professionals.
Knutson pays Mango Map more than US$100 per month to run his system on their server.
The more it’s used, the more it personally costs him. He has sold a few ads on his GIS4Ag website, but that revenue covers only a small fraction of his costs.
The GIS4Ag website allows users to make voluntary donations and in a typical month, Knutson says he might earn an extra $50 that way.
“This cost is currently coming out of my pocket. I don’t want to pull these soil maps down, but if I can’t at least recoup the costs, then I’ll have no choice. If this service is valuable to you please consider contributing each month and keeping it going,” he says.
Knutson, who has a Master’s degree in geographical information systems (GIS) from the University of Ulster in Ireland, says converting the information into a more usable format was a difficult case to crack.
But now farmers can find maps of their specific fields easily by going to www.gis4ag.com and clicking on “maps”. Go to your province, then enter your legal land description in the search box.
Knutson built a handy GPS feature into the system. Any device with GPS will bring up the soil information in real time for the location you’re standing on. Drive to another field and Knutson’s system will bring up that field for your viewing.
Considering that the service is free of charge, it’s surprising that so few people use it, probably because they don’t know about it. The site gets about 300 hits per month in Manitoba, but only a dozen who regularly make a donation. There’s a smaller number of users in Saskatchewan and Alberta.