Rosa Boone, Foto door Femke Reijerman
Rosa Boone, Foto door Femke Reijerman

Towards smart soil-sensing: developing a proxy for soil health

Image: Femke Reijerman

Farmers used to smell the land to determine if the soil was healthy. But to know what happens underground, you need more than a strong sense of smell. That’s why Rosa Boone is developing an ‘electronic nose’; a sensor technology that allows farmers to measure the health of the soil. Soil gases have the potential to be a proxy that could help monitoring the soil microbial community.  To do this, it is also important to know what makes soil healthy. Therefore, Rosa also investigates how soil life and soil functionality are linked in agro-ecosystems.

Soil health

Microbes (fungi, and bacteria), move through soil, emitting gases. These are called Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). By measuring the VOCs, you get an idea of the microbes living in the soil, and by extension, also of the soil health and its condition. Different types of land use intensities can have (vastly) different soil communities. By measuring VOC’s in soils under different types of management (e.g. conventional, extensive, semi-natural), researchers want to map whether there are specific VOCs that occur in these different types of management. The researchers are trying to match VOCs to specific microbial communities, to create an as detailed as possible image of the soil microbial life. This allows them to create VOC profiles and compare them to each other. The main goal is to develop a ready-made device that measures soil health, developed in collaboration with farmers.  Moreover, not only are researchers are trying to a proxy for soil health, but also to determine how a “healthy” soil looks like and how a famer can benefit from this. If we can show them how they can benefit from this, we can also try to persuade them to change their management practices.

This research is part of the coordinating project Living Lab Ooijpolder.




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