Field sensing on the fly gets option

Austrian company puts Topsoil Mapper, magnetic induction sensor to work on North American farm fields

An Austria-based soil-sensor startup is taking another run at the North American market, but this time it offers an automatic tillage control feature for deep ripping.

The Topsoil Mapper built by Geoprospectors first came to Canada in 2018 branded by Pessl Instruments as the Field Scan, but that project failed to fully deliver.

North American sales for the magnetic-induction-based sensor are now managed by Rick Pryor, who said the automatic tillage control will be a valuable tool for producers.

Through the ISOBUS, the sensor’s control tablet can run the tractor’s hydraulics and have the ripper tool go only as deep as the bottom of the hardpan layer, and thus prevent disturbing the soil deeper than is needed.

“You can map and till at the same time. They have already been doing this in Europe for quite some time,” said Pryor.

“Its (hardpan) depth is not the same across the entire field. Typically, how people have been dealing with compaction is just set the deep ripper at two feet and just do the whole field, even if you don’t have to.”

The Topsoil Mapper uses magnetic-induction to find the top of the hardpan layer, which Pryor said is typically only two or three inches thick, so operators can set the automatic tillage control to account for this.

The automatic tillage control kit can be installed on any cultivator or subsoiler with continuous hydraulic depth control.

There are two established sensor manufacturers in North America, Goenics and Veris, that offer products that provide similar soil mapping data and Veris also enables real-time soil property data to help during seeding.

However, Pryor said there are differences in the products.

“The Veris gives similar data but it has to have soil contact,” Pryor said.

“The EM38 and the Top Soil Mapper use magnetic induction so they don’t have to have bare soil. But the EM38 has to be dragged on a sled unless you make apparatus to carry it, and the Top Soil Mapper also has four receiver coils in it compared to two in the EM38.”

He said the distance the four receiver coils are from the transmitter coil dictates how far the sensor will penetrate the ground.

“What that does is it allows you to get a three-dimensional profile of your soil. Not only do you get the horizontal spatial variability of your fields, but you also get a vertical variability as well,” Pryor said.

The sensor is typically operated 30 centimetres above the ground, and the deepest induction coil measures the soil down to 1.1 metres below the sensor.

The Topsoil Mapper has an accelerometer that provides data on the height of the sensor above the ground as well as its pitch and roll, which provides another data layer that can be used to correct the sensor’s values.

It also has a temperature sensor because sensors that rely on magnetic fields can be affected by sudden temperature shifts.

“You have the temperature data, you know how this thing is supposed to perform optimally, and you can plug that into the software so that any data points that don’t conform to a set of standards get discarded. Nobody else is doing that,” Pryor said.

The electrical-conductivity-based sensors measure the soil’s texture, which enables growers to create zones in their fields that can serve as the base for a variable rate prescription program.

The Topsoil Mapper comes in a case that has a three-point mount on it and it can be installed on receiver hitches, side by sides, tractors or implements.

The sensor is powered by a Windows 10-based table that uses propitiatory software to export the information to the desktop computer software the company developed.

This is where it attaches GPS information to the appropriate data points, and applies any of the corrections that it needs to keep the data within specific parameters.

The software then provides a preview of the results and allow users to export the data in a CSV or shapefile format, which most agronomic software can use.

“Geoprospectors don’t want to tell you how to use your data. They can tell you what you can do with it, but they are not developing agronomic software,” Pryor said.

“The data you’re getting back has only been corrected for quality, it’s had no other agronomic algorithms run on it. This gives you flexibility to interpret it how you want.”

The Topsoil Mapper retails for about $40,000, and there is an annual software subscription fee of about $2,700.

The company recently updated the system to enable an automatic cloud upload of the agronomic data when the tablet connects to the internet including with a cellular hotspot.

The cloud-based system uses the same software as the desktop-based program does.

Geoprospectors is also offering a hardware as a service plan, where customers get the sensor for free once they commit to an annual mapping subscription.

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