Tools & data

Background last update:26 Aug 2019

Translating bulk-density change to economic impact

Veritas is investigating whether drone-tech can be used to measure losses from soil compaction.

Spring 2019 was incredibly wet for much of Ontario, Canada. It was so wet, in fact, that many farmers were unable to plant their crops until well into June and July – and even then, the ground was still much too damp.

But while farmers were frustrated, data-enthusiasts at Veritas Farm Management, a drone tech and data-service company based in the province’s Southwest, saw an opportunity to measure soil compaction.

More specifically, they thought widespread less-than-ideal planting conditions were the perfect time to see if drone data could be used to quantify economic losses from compaction.

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The increasing size and scale of equipment has many farmers wondering just how severe compaction can be on their farms.  - Photos: Matt McIntosh
The increasing size and scale of equipment has many farmers wondering just how severe compaction can be on their farms. - Photos: Matt McIntosh

Measure bulk density changes

“I tell people 2019 was a great year for studying soil compaction because of the wet and challenging planting conditions,” says Aaron Breimer, manager for Veritas.

He and his colleagues are currently conducting an internal study (Breimer refers to it as “one of many pet projects”) measuring compaction in Ontario fields using bulk density data. They’re focusing on similar soil types – in the same field with different amounts of potential compaction – worked with tillage equipment, but changing the number of passes made with that equipment.

Currently, he says 15 to 20 per cent increases in bulk density have been found at 9 different sites with different soil types – each where vertical tillage equipment had made 2 passes this past spring.

Further analysis and comparison with other field data, he says, should help determine the exact economic impact that compaction caused.

Amalgamating larger-scale data

Breimer says his company is also working on quantifying the economic loss of compaction on a large scale, not just small plot research. This includes quantifying the damage of tire compaction by utilizing GIS (geographical and spatial data analysis) software to overlay bulk density data with applied planting and productivity data (yield), as well as productivity zones within the field.

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Data is being aggregated to provide a more insightful and rigorous overall picture of the impact of bulk-density (compaction) on profitability.
Data is being aggregated to provide a more insightful and rigorous overall picture of the impact of bulk-density (compaction) on profitability.

The idea, he says, is to provide farmers with data that can be used to help make business decisions, such as what kind of rubber they should consider (e.g. tracks vs ultra-wide tires, whether an inflation-deflation system is worth the investment, and so on).

“We’re able to generate the economic loss in the areas that are being compacted […] looking at not just loss within an operation, but also the difference in operations with different equipment configurations,” says Breimer.

75 unique farm operations

Breimer adds they are currently working with 75 unique farm operations for the larger project. Data from those operations is being aggregated to provide a more insightful and rigorous overall picture of the impact of bulk-density (compaction) on profitability.

Individual farmer participants can access their own data, too. However, Breimer says they are also allowed to access anonymised data taken from other farms – if they in turn allow other farmers to access their own anonymised field information. “It’s not fair to ask for everyone else’s data if they’re not willing to share theirs,” he says.

Experimenting with the software

Overall the project is still in its infancy. Breimer says they are still experimenting with the software used to measure and compare their bulk-density data, though as of this writing, significant amounts of data have started to roll-in. Of course, it will need to be amalgamated before any statistically-significant conclusions can be drawn.

Also read: Does technology have all the answers for soil compaction?

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