CropX Soil Moisture Probes

Cassie & Jake Misch are a dynamic team. The husband and wife duo work in northern Indiana, Cassie focusing on agronomy and CropX advising, and Jake focused on their farm. As part of both of their work, they get the opportunity to use, review, and understand new technologies that are being employed on the field. One such technology that has quickly risen to prominent use in their area is the CropX Soil Moisture probe. 

The need first became obvious about 5 years ago when Cassie noticed that farmers didn’t have access to accurate decision making services to help them understand their irrigation practices. In fact, there was a general lack of access to irrigation data at all. In response, Cassie went through training and became an advisor for her area under her broader Platinum Ag agronomy services company. For his part, Jake began including the soil moisture probe sensors into their farm operation when he installed his first pivot, about a year after Cassie took on her position.

Jake sought to understand the actual results coming in from the irrigation, and to be able to make better decisions on when to turn the system on/off based on root needs. From a farming perspective, the move to install a sensor under the irrigation system made sense as it would help him understand the cost/benefit of irrigation on the field throughout the season.

What is a soil moisture probe? 

According to Cassie, the basics of soil moisture probe technology have been around for decades. Probes have similar characteristics no matter their brand and typically vary only slightly. For instance, most soil moisture probes are placed about 3 feet into the soil, with up to 9 sensors at different levels, usually spaced 4 inches apart. The sensors will monitor the amount of water available at each level, and can graph out patterns over time. 

While this technology has been around many years, recent improvements have made the use on the farm much more manageable and timely. Cassie says that the biggest technology changes have been made in the following areas: 

  • Sensor Count- Over time the count of sensors on each probe has grown, leading to an average of at least 9 sensors per probe versus a much lower sensor count on average in the early years of the technology. This has increased both the accuracy, and volume of probe results. 
  • Ease of Installation- Whether your farm is using one probe or many, the ability to install and remove at the beginning and end of the season is crucial. Current moisture probes are much easier to install and take down based on improvements to their material design.
  • Sensor Data- As our understanding of soil science has increased, so has our ability to understand the relationship between soil and water. Current probes take into account soil type, weather data, and trends over time to generate more accurate datasets. 
  • Information Access- Quite possibly the largest technological development has been connecting soil moisture probes to cellular networks, making it possible to see data and access reports in real time. This has allowed farmers like Jake to make timely decisions without having to go to the field and retrieve the data using a laptop or wired connection.

Decision Factors 

Cassie and Jake both agree that there are many factors to take into account when deciding to install a soil moisture probe. Most farms get value from installing probes in irrigated fields. This helps to monitor when plant roots are losing access to water and need replenished. Cassie estimates that 95% of farms use the probes exclusively for irrigation purposes, while the other 5% use the probes for research trials or to gather specific information. They’re especially useful in locations with restricted water use, ensuring the most value comes out of every pivot rotation. 

Ultimately the choice to install soil probes comes down to a cost/benefit analysis that includes income and time. Probes need to be installed at the beginning of the season and removed before the beginning of harvest. That takes time and manpower. Additionally, some farms may value having multiple sensors in the same field to cover different soil types, elevations, etc. This increase in data can be valuable, however most farms only install one sensor per field and will have to prioritize the probe location to maximize impact. 

All of this consideration and more needs to go into choosing soil moisture probes for a farming operation. You can learn more about CropX/Cropmetric sensors here.

Down The Line

After talking with Cassie and Jake, a lot of information was brought up about the possibilities we’ll see in moisture probe technology, and all sensor technology in the future. A main possibility is the application of machine learning to sensor data. Being able to use machine learning to generate forecasts and make decisions based on all available field data will provide farmers with an even more accurate picture of when to apply irrigation, nutrients, and other field needs. Automating the process and clearing up the results when they reach your phone or tablet will increase the speed at which decisions can be made, even leading to potential integration with the irrigation system itself. There is even potential for all of your data across the farm, from sensors, to equipment, to weather forecasts and even insect phenology (link to Cropsafe story) to come together in one spot, conveniently accessible through a farmer’s phone for better, faster, more resource efficient decision making.

Want to learn more about how IN10T is incorporating technology such as soil moisture probes into our field trials? Reach out today at info@in10t.ag or at 888-848-6372.

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