Researchers at Tyndall National Institute have created a new soil sensor to help farmers reduce monitoring costs and fertiliser use.

Farmers need to monitor the nutrients in the soil and various environmental factors to ensure their crops grow properly, such as temperature and humidity. The traditional method of soil monitoring involves taking physical samples to analyse how the soil changes over time.

By comparing these results over an extended period, farmers can determine what changes are required to improve the soil – which can be done by adding chemical fertilisers. But these fertilisers can cause nitrogen and phosphorous contamination, which can negatively impact Ireland’s farms and water sources.

Tyndall says this method is costly and can be inaccurate as the results are delayed. To address this, researchers have created a sensor that can be buried in the soil to monitor nutrient levels in real time.

This sensor – called the Electronic Smart System (ESS) – uses cloud technology to collect and analyse the data to generate a report for the farmer. Tyndall says these reports will give farmers real-time data on changing soil conditions, which will help them to optimise fertiliser use and reduce environmental impacts.

“This a very exciting emerging technology that does not exist elsewhere in the world,” said Tyndall’s Prof Alan O’Riordan. “We are now looking at ways to translate this tech into the hands of farmers through licensing or commercialisation.”

By monitoring emissions and supporting efficient fertiliser use, the ESS sensor can contribute to a healthier, more sustainable food supply chain.

The project is funded by the VistaMilk Science Foundation Ireland Research Centre and is in line with the EU’s Green Deal objectives and Farm-to-Fork strategy, which aims to reduce nutrient losses by 50pc and address air, soil and water pollution.

Leigh Mc Gowran
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