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New device unearths critical details in the dirt in real time

Eising developed SoilReader. The plug-and-play device consists of sapphire glass, a spectrometer, and a microcomputer. 

Soil sampling has always been an important management tool to ensure a crop gets the nutrients it needs. Yet, the technology that unearths the critical details in the dirt has changed little through the years.

“While we have seen some advancements in areas like zone management and determining where to take samples, we’re still basing the majority of our soil-management decisions on a decades-old process,” says Terry Aberbacht, a Canadian farmer and precision ag consultant.

Wanting a deeper understanding of what the seed encounters once it goes in the ground motivated Erik Eising to bring soil sampling into the 21st century. Near-infrared (NIR) spectroscopy would provide the answers he was looking for.

“Karl Norris developed NIR spectroscopy during World War II while working at the USDA Instrumentation Research Laboratory,” says Eising, founder and CEO of SoilReader. “Canadian doctor Phil Williams applied that technology to grain analysis in the early 1970s. It revolutionized grain management. As my mentor, he helped me understand the theory behind the power needed for a spectroscopy.”

Based on that knowledge, Eising developed SoilReader. The plug-and-play device consists of sapphire glass, a spectrometer, and a microcomputer. 

“When that industrial-grade glass touches the soil, the reflection is captured and sent to the spectrometer,” Eising says. 

The patented technology measures nine soil constituents (N, P, K, pH, OM, EC, moisture, clay, and sand) in real time, at varying depths, on-the-go – without removing a speck of dirt. 

SoilReader works best attached to a coulter, which acts like a giant pizza cutter as it moves through the soil, leaving it undisturbed (compared with a shank). 

“It’s the difference between cutting a pizza with a round pizza cutter vs. dragging a knife across the top of it,” says Cal Harrison, vice president of marketing for SoilReader. “The coulter also allows us to analyze multiple depths with one pass as opposed to a shank.”

“If you disturb the soil, your quality of spectra is gone. You have to leave the soil in its same location without impacting it, which is what we’re doing with this technology,” Eising says. 

SoilReader is in the final stages of field accuracy and durability documentation and will be available for purchase in 2020.

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