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Soil Sampling is the Lifeblood in Precision Farming

Soil sampling is probably the most important feature in agriculture, as it provides a broad indication of the nutrient levels within the soil. Genetic technology, in terms of crop breeding, has made tremendous leaps over the last 100 years, but genetic breeding only forms one part of the equation. Farmers can achieve success with the best performing hybrid variety on the market, but it will not mean anything if that variety has insufficient nutrients at its disposal to perform to its full potential.

What does Soil Sampling involve?

Soil sampling entails taking batches of soil from a field and sending it away to a specialised laboratory for analysis. This analysis will detail information on the nutritional status of the soil. The information included in this report will be:

  1. the pH of the soil,
  2. organic matter content,
  3. levels of primary nutrient elements (phosphate and potassium),
  4. levels of secondary nutrient elements (calcium, magnesium, and sulphur),
  5. levels of micronutrients (iron, manganese, copper, zinc, molybdenum, and boron), as well as
  6. salt levels within the soil.

This information is all used to make the best decision regarding the crop that the farmer will be planting.

The primary role of the pH analysis

The most important feedback within the analysis is the pH, as this influences the effectiveness of all other nutrient products applied before or during the season. If the pH of the soil is not within the desired range, then it will impact the uptake of other elements in the soil, which in turn will lead to undesirable yields.

To adjust the pH of the soil the farmers must apply lime, which can either be dolomitic or calcitic lime:

  1. Dolomitic lime contains more magnesium, whereas
  2. Calcitic lime contains more calcium.

Application of lime is done when a special applicator is connected to the farmer’s tractor. The rate of application is done according to a ‘prescription’ obtained from the soil analysis. One of the benefits of having the applicator, is that it is not only used to add lime, but also to add fertiliser, chemicals and additives needed in the production process.

Progress in Soil Analysis

In the past, soil analysis was done to give a general indication of the soil’s nutritional status, but did not provide information on individual spots within the field. This meant farmers could only apply products broadly over the crop area, which effective for its time, but not very efficient. The historical approach did not allow for a variable application rate in different parts of the field. It should be noted, however, that the manual-based technology of the time did not allow for this.

With the advent of GPS and other technologies such as precision soil sampling, the whole agricultural industry was evolved, allowing farmers to get a more in-depth picture of the nutritional status of their soils and to be more precise when making corrections.

Unitrans Africa is a leader in precision agriculture technology in Africa. They have built up a large footprint in Africa due to expertise and reputation for constant agricultural innovation. They now have solid base of agricultural operations in many African countries such as Malawi, Zambia, Tanzania and Mozambique.

Together with other precision agriculture practices, which Unitrans Africa offers (VRA fertiliser application, drone surveying, field levelling and yield mapping), soil sampling, is part of the process used to address all aspects of cane farming in order to reduce costs and increase yields.

Find out more about Unitrans Africa’s values of innovation, honesty, excellence, unity, safety and constancy, as well as their ability to provide comprehensive contributions to farming operations by contacting us via email.