Optimising field traffic to reduce soil compaction

14-12-2021 | |
Heavy machinery in the field can compact the soil, which damages the soil's ability to absorb both water and nutrients. - Photo: Mark Pasveer
Heavy machinery in the field can compact the soil, which damages the soil's ability to absorb both water and nutrients. - Photo: Mark Pasveer

Researchers at Aarhus University in Denmark use technology to optimise field traffic in order to reduce soil compaction.

The project, supported by the Danish Green Development and Demonstration Program (GUDP) will develop a system that can help farmers map the most optimal route in the field. The goal is to reduce soil compaction so that less nitrogen, phosphorus, and pesticides are leached, less nitrous oxide is emitted, and more carbon is stored.

Harvesting of grass

The project is called “SOLGRAS – Optimisation of field traffic to ensure soil protection and efficiency: the case of grass harvest.” Initially, the researchers will develop a system based on the harvesting of grass, but they expect to be able to use the same technology to optimise driving with other heavy loads, such as harvesting of other crops or transport of manure.

“Grass is very sensitive to harmful soil compaction, and is harvested many times during a year, so we can test our solution several times during the project,” Senior Researcher Mathieu Lamandé from the Department of Agroecology said. The project manager for SOLGRAS estimates that the project can limit the climate impact of hay grass by a total of 360 kilos of CO2 equivalents per hectare each year. “If the system is extended to 160,000 hectares of Danish agricultural land, it will produce 57,600 tonnes of CO2 equivalents per year. At the same time, we expect that more sustainable driving in the field can increase the farmer’s grass yield by 20 percent,” Lamandé said.

A side benefit of optimal driving in the field is savings in fuel, which in turn is good for the environment and for the farmer.

Text continues underneath image

The researchers will develop a system based on the harvesting of grass, which is to support the farmer in deciding the most suitable route in the field. - Photo: Henk Riswick
The researchers will develop a system based on the harvesting of grass, which is to support the farmer in deciding the most suitable route in the field. - Photo: Henk Riswick

Combining existing technologies

If the project, which runs until August 2024, is to succeed, it is important that it is easy for the farmer to optimise his driving in the fields, the researchers say. According to them it would be appropriate to develop a system where different existing technologies can be combined. Automatic tire pressure systems for instance play a major role in soil compaction and fuel consumption and is one of the technologies that the project wants to include.

Deciding the most suitable route

The intention is that the new system will support the farmer in deciding the most suitable route in the field. By comparing different routes, it will be possible to determine a route that reduces the risk of soil compaction, saves on fuel and working time as much as possible.

The project will produce data that can be used to automate the system and guide the farmer. The data will be a combination of data from satellites and a soil database. It can be used to produce high-resolution digital soil maps. In addition, data for topography and weather will also be included in the new system.

The system is based on a model for assessing the risk of soil compaction from an already completed GUDP project called COMMIT. From this, the researchers will further develop and specialise the system with more accurate data on soil, climate, and machine type.

There are many different factors that come into play when it comes to driving in the field. The machines have different sizes, weights, and traction. The tire pressure depends on the weight of the load. Researchers from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering will be involved in developing algorithms for optimising the machines’ routes.

Also read: Counting the cost of soil compaction

Claver
Hugo Claver Web editor for Future Farming