New technology senses nitrate levels in plants and water
A newly-developed technology will allow farmers to test exactly how much nitrate is in a plant.
EnGeniousAg is a new company started by Iowa State Agronomist Michael Castellano and University of Nebraska agronomist James Schnable. They’ve created a sensor that quickly measures nitrate levels in plants or in water.
Schnable says when farmers need to make a decision on adding nitrogen now, it’s a slow and tedious process that involves sending soil samples to a lab and waiting for results. Schnabel says his sensors eliminate waiting for test results. “Yes, it takes about three seconds, so not perfectly instant but compared to waiting a few days, it feels like instant.”
Schnable says the prototype allows farmers to see the nitrate level right on the sensor, but the product being developed will interface with the farmer’s smartphone. “You do not want to be writing down hundreds of these measurements and where you took them, so the production model connects to the smartphone via Bluetooth, and so you’re capturing the GPS position and the time of all of those measurements, so it’s much easier to translate that back into, okay, what do I need to do as far as fertilizer or other side-dress applications.”
Schnable says it’s easy to detect nitrates if that is the only thing present, but they’ve developed the sensor to pick out the nitrates from the many other things inside the plant or water.
Schnable says he will be recruiting farmers for a larger-scale beta test of the sensor technology and hopes to bring it to market in 2024.