Soil nutrient sensor nets top award

Close-up view of the Optifert soil nutrient sensor equipment, an award winner at Agritechnica 2013.
Close-up view of the Optifert soil nutrient sensor equipment, an award winner at Agritechnica 2013.

The Optifert soil nutrient sensor from Pessl Instruments of Austria has been awarded the silver medal at the prestigious Agritechnica show.

It offers potential to replace or complement the expensive and time-consuming process of sending soil samples to a laboratory for the soil nutrients to be determined.

It is believed to be the first mobile and user-friendly system on the market which allows measuring the concentrations of soil nutrients with laboratory quality, in the field, in real time.

The Optifert “lab on a chip” equipment allows nutrients (nitrate NO3, ammonium NH4, Potassium K, and phosphate PO4) to be determined quickly and directly on the field.

A watery solution of soil samples (or plant extracts) is produced and analysed by special sensors in the equipment.

Fertiliser rates are generally determined on the basis of soil sample analyses, and due to the low analysis cost with the Optifert soil nutrient sensor, and immediate availability of the results, the number of analyses can be distinctly increased, making it possible to enhance the precision of fertilising in agriculture and horticulture.

The Optifert “lab on a chip” technology offers complex chemical laboratory analysis on small microchips.

The central part of the system is a replaceable chip with a tiny analysis channel with a diameter in the sub-mm range.

Unlike conventional on-site sensors (such as ion-selective electrodes for pure nitrate measurement), this sensor detects various sample compounds, as the sensing principle generally applies to all ions in liquids.

The analysis can distinguish all macronutrients (NO3, NH4, K, and PO4) in a single run, within 120 seconds after the soil liquid sample is placed on the chip.

It is described as a powerful tool for classic manual fertiliser application or for integration in newer automatic “fertigation” systems, where application of fertiliser is based on the soil nutrient sensor data supported by soil moisture and climate data.

* Optifert is one of the winners of four gold medals and 33 silver medals for innovation in Agritechnica 2013, the world’s largest exhibition for agricultural machinery and equipment, being held at the Exhibition Grounds in Hanover, Germany, Nov 12-16.

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