Bury and forget soil sensors reduce fertilizer runoff

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In Iowa, engineers at Iowa State University and the University of Florida are working on a new system of “bury and forget” soil sensors and remote, wireless, data collection networks aimed at reducing fertilizer drainage and runoff that flows down the Mississippi River and contributes to the “dead zone” of oxygen-depleted water in the Gulf of Mexico along the Louisiana coast.

The healthy soil system envisioned by the engineers could help reduce the amount of nitrogen fertilizer that leaves farm fields by using data from the sensors to build better models of the interactions of fertilizer, soil and crops. Those models could help farmers reduce the fertilizer they use.

“If we had a better predictive model, we could have better remedies for farmers,” said Jonathan Claussen, an Iowa State assistant professor of mechanical engineering and leader of the project. “A better model could tell them they can use less fertilizer.”