Uncovering secrets of soil

WELL informed farmers made a beeline for the Greenplan Limited stand when they arrived at the Ploughing Championships over the past two days.

Only the most up-to-date knew that Greenplan were finalists last Monday in the Westmeath Enterprise Awards for the soil mapping and sampling system which they launched this week at the Ploughing.

Some have been following the progress of this system throughout its development at the Tralee Institute of Technology, where Richard Hayden was closely involved in what he calls “non-invasive soil scanning”.

He was at the Ploughing this week, explaining to farmers how this cutting edge technology can help them at this time of great change in farming.

Basically, what the technology does is reveal what lies beneath the soil surface - which has always been one of the great mysteries of farming.

Only the most seasoned farmer can guess the depth of soil, the texture, the clay content, the organic matter content, just by looking at a field.

What was perfected at IT Tralee, with the help of research sponsorship by Greenplan, was a machine which can be towed over a field at up to 10 miles per hour and can answer all of these questions scientifically.

Rapid, detailed, economic soil physical assessments are made easy with non-invasive soil scanning, using electrical conductivity meters. These have been used worldwide since the 1980s.

The system now being marketed by Greenplan offers invaluable information to landowners. For a few euro per acre, tillage farmers will be able to pinpoint compaction zones which need sub-soiling. There’s huge interest also from sports organisations who could use Greenplan’s services to detect sports field drainage problems.

Richard Hayden reveals that some Cork farmers are interested in using Greenplan’s soil scanning as part of the precision agriculture approach which is widely used on the world’s most advanced tillage farms.

Part of the Greenplan service is automated soil sampling, which is more accurate, because it is combined with scanning results, and the total package can be used to enable variable rate spreading of fertilisers, for economy and maximum productivity. Irish soils are hugely variable, even within fields; if every acre gets the same amount of fertiliser, it is wasted on some acres due to the hidden soil variation.

It could be farmers looking ahead to the implications of the Nitrates Directive who have most to gain from soil scanning.

With pig, poultry and dairy units already starting the search for new land to spread their organic waste, scanning offers the soil information needed to assess the ability of land to process and utilise organic waste without pollution.

In fact, soil scanning could eventually become a requirement for all land-spreading activity.

Already, the EPA stipulates how deep a soil must be above the bedrock for intensive land-spreading. Up to now, landowners had to use diggers, augers and hand held drills to assess the quality and quantity of the soil above the bedrock, and assess the risk of groundwater contamination from landspreading.

Now, as visitors to Greenplan are discovering at the Ploughing this week, all that can be done rapidly and efficiently on the go - an easy solution for land-spreaders who must show two metres depth of soil.

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