The Open Furrow Projects Behind the Wire Dirt Hog's Companion On Point Explorations Agrosphere Journal

05 January 2016: Just arrived: check out the NCSU AMPLIFY research platform at the Cunningham Farm in Kinston, N.C. This content has been cross-referenced in the Projects page in case you don't ingress that swampy threshold while here.

04 April 2013: We have added a section on site-specific, non-inversion deep tillage courtesy of George Naderman, who is actively researching this critical topic.

Do you know exactly where on Earth's surface you are at this moment? Assuming we could point our location precisely in angular latitude and longitude (degrees, minutes, seconds) measurements, or in Cartesian coordinates in the Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM) projection, would these coordinates be the same and true for all maps? The answer is no. Inherent to all measurements of location is distortion caused by projecting a spherical body (Earth) onto a flat surface (a map). The question "where exactly am I now?" is complicated by the fact that a spheroidal body does not translate into a flat planar image, such as a map, without distorting the spatial properties of area, shape, distance, and direction. Furthermore, a coordinate system has a unique datum, or point of origin, associated with it. Your precise location will vary depending on the spheroid and associated datum used to project that coordinate system.

Now, if you happen to be outside standing on a divot of earth, the soil underfoot has physical and chemical characteristics unique to that specific location. The characteristics vary spatially such that, if you moved 3 meters from your original position the profile soil characteristics would change as well. The change may be subtle or drastic, but the infinite variability of soils in the landscape ensures that no soil at each of two dissimilar locations on Earth's surface are exactly alike. Soil scientists have understood this from the beginning, but lacked the tools to capture and give expression to that information until recently. Understanding soil variability in the landscape is fundamental to site-specific management; mapping that variability creates a visual tool we can use for analysis and decision making.

Site specific management is an area of geoinformatics (geomatics) that has exploded recently thanks to advances in computer-aided technologies that can record and process vast amounts of spatial data and project that data in two- or three-dimensions. The fourth dimension, time, is more difficult but efforts are being made to integrate that as well. Relating geospatial terrestrial and environmental data properties requires that scientists integrate a broad range of technologies such as geographic information systems (GIS), aerial and proximate remote sensing (hyperspectral imaging, ground penetration radar, LIDAR, soil electrical conductivity), the global positioning system (GPS), and geostatistical methods for estimating soil properties between two finite points in three-dimensional space.

A criticism of site-specific management is that it relies on expensive, sophisticated technology, which is not available to resource-limited clients. This may be true at one extreme of the continuum, but low-cost solutions exist to capture geospatial information for soil management decision support. We kick off this page by presenting some low-cost approaches, courtesy of the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service.

Agrosphere Modeling for Producing Large Increases in Food Yield (AMPLIFY)

AMPLIFY is a public-private research platform designed to propel innovation and resource-efficient methods to increase food yields. Created by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences of N.C. State University, AMPLIFY was conceived as a transdisciplinary, entrepreneurial platform providing infrastructure for mobilizing research capability and intellectual capacity to solve complex global issues in agriculture. Advances in telemetry, remote sensing and digital imaging, and precision machine guidance systems are generating multi-dimensional information that could drive agricultural decision-making at ground level and beyond, if we know how to harness it. By pulling together basic and applied expertise from NC State’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, College of Sciences, and College of Engineering, AMPLFY seeks to: (1) model photosynthesis, carbon metabolism and partitioning, and water use efficiency (2) develop custom hyperspectral imaging systems for a seamless, integrated high-throughput phenomics pipeline; (3) fuse remote sensing information to quantify crop phenology, biomass, and soil-plant nutrient and water status; (4) model and identify high performance, resilient yield traits and create improved management strategies and decision support tools.

Site-Specific Tillage Research

The presence of root restrictive soil zones is a common feature of many southern Ultisols, especially Coastal Plain soils low in organic matter and with sandy, sandy loam, loamy sand textured surface horizons. High strength soil zones may vary with depth, but are predicted by the presence of light-colored, sandy-textured E or EB horizons where the interaction of wheel traffic, tillage, and natural consolidation over time produces a very dense 'hardpan'. Farmers manage hardpans by deep ripping annually, an energy-intensive practice that is, none the less, profitable because of the crop yield increases realized from it.

Recent advances in GPS/GIS guided systems now offer precision control of field operations. Digital subsurface soil mapping is one solution that would enable energy-saving 'on-the-go' adjustments of non-inversion deep ripping equipment. Subsoil shank-mounted 'on-the-go' soil strength measurement sensors are another solution advanced by Hall and Raper (2005). Neither approach has spawned commercially viable guidance systems, but a dedicated group led by George Naderman, Extension Soil Specialist (retired), NC State University, continues accelerating the idea behind digital soil mapping for precision deep tillage. We offer a survey of site-specific, precision deep tillage research from the Naderman and Raper groups, below.

This site was created by Robert D. Walters in consultation with Jijy Thanwalee. Reproduction of author's content by permission only. Questions and/or comments about this site may be directed to This site and all content within it have not been endorsed by N.C. State University. Directory information for Robert D. Walters available here (via Linkedin).

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