Report Synopsis

Developing Soil Type Maps into Management Zones

Tony Balkwill

My Nuffield research topic was to take historical soil type maps and look at the challenges to accurately modernize them into field specific management zones. My research explored the methods and technology available to measure the spatial distribution of soils within a field. I studied different farming systems, and how soil variability differed by implementing variable rate farming.

It was challenging to summarize this amazing experience and reduce it to a one page, Executive Summary. However, specifically to the topic at hand, there are some key findings that need to be brought to light within Canadian agriculture. Soils and their variability are a key foundation to any crop grown, animal grazed and land farmed. However, they are seldom understood or even managed specific to their characteristics.

I have been involved in agriculture all my life, having been born and raised on a mixed livestock and cropping farm in Southern Ontario, Canada. Agriculture and its diversity has shaped a lot of my business, social and work ethics over my young adult life. As I started to specialize in agronomy and technology I noticed a trend in the industry that was troublesome. Everyone, myself included, thought that we could farm better using technology and science in a top down approach. Yield maps, sensors, spatial trends in data, you name it we bought it and tried to use it. What did we see? Variability.

The key finding, which was consistent to all the countries discussed in this report, is the demand for remapping the old soil type maps to a new spatially accurate layer for the use of site specific farming. Farmers were investing in these maps because of the confidence they had in using an accurate soils map for their variable rate foundations. This sort of remapping is happening and will be a key platform in the world of modern farming. It is an inventory of soils that a grower is farming with. This idea follows the original plan of soil maps to have an inventory of soil types in a given region, but now it is more specific and accurate to a field by field level. Whether these modern reclassified soil maps are being used for optimizing production or to understand environmental implications, they will be the foundation of utilizing site specific farming technologies.

My study focused on three distinct groups: in field growers, educational institutions, and commercial industry, and what each was doing, developing or building when looking at soil type maps studies. Within these groups, I wanted to understand what value they each placed on historical soil type map. I also was curious to understand the role in which they were used in modern farming systems. Thanks to this Nuffield scholarship, I was able to travel to the United Kingdom, Australian and New Zealand to explore these questions.

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