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Automated Soil-Sampling System

08/11/2014 @ 4:55pm

The details are in the dirt. It’s a fact that has become even more clear as both tillage practices and advanced technologies have demanded that soil samples be taken more comprehensively and intensively.

“I make a lot of decisions based on the outcome of the soil samples I take,” says Monroe, North Carolina, farmer Allan Baucom. “They are expensive decisions that I invest a lot of money in. Yet, I’m not always sure of the quality.”

Replacing the shovel

Historically, soil samples are gathered across an entire field to determine the average nutrient status and to provide a measure of nutrient variability. More often than not, the person assigned to this task was taking the measurements haphazardly.

“For a long time, I had the lowest-paid employees pulling samples because they were available. They were more interested in quantity rather than quality,” says Baucom. “That probably wasn’t smart, because the sample is too important to trust to just anyone.”

As the focus has narrowed to sample specific areas within a field, the methods to measure those variabilities have changed very little. “Soil sampling is still shovel work,” notes Baucom.

That’s why he custom-engineered the Falcon – an automated soil-sampling system.

“The premise was to develop a system for taking quality soil samples and doing it efficiently and effectively. The Falcon takes soil sampling from the prehistoric to the future. Gone are the days of time-consuming, labor-intensive, inconsistent, and tedious sample collection,” says Baucom. “Falcon technology delivers better samples and better analysis to make smarter input decisions.”

Weighing in at 2,200 pounds, at the heart of the ground-driven system is a 5-foot-diameter stainless steel drum. Once lowered, a probe takes a sample every 15 feet at a depth determined by the length of the probe, which can range from 4 to 12 inches.

When the sample is collected, the drum is raised and a 12-volt motor takes over, which continues to rotate it, mixing the soil. “This gives a good homogenous sample of the area being probed,” says Baucom.

A funnel then lowers into the drum, and the sample flows into an individual container. As the funnel returns to its original position, the tray rotates to ready itself for the next sample.

“All of this is done without stopping,” he notes. “It is completely on-the-fly.”
The tray holds 12 samples before it has to be replaced. “On average, the system gathers 12 samples every 40 minutes. When the tray is full, you go to the back of the machine and grab another tray to take further samples,” he explains.

The compartment on the back holds 12 trays. “In total, the system can hold 156 samples, which includes the tray collecting,” he says.

Upgrading service
For Rich Wildman, Agrinetix, Falcon has doubled the number of samples he takes per day while greatly improving the quality of each sample.

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