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What is digital soil mapping

Digital soil mapping (DSM) is a modern technique that aims to improve soil performance by creating detailed maps of soil characteristics that allows farmers to make informed decisions about land management practices.

What is digital soil mapping?

Think of digital soil mapping as a digital blueprint of soil across various landscapes. Geospatial technologies and statistical modelling are used to produce detailed maps of soil types and properties over large areas, facilitating land management and environmental planning. 

To do this, digital soil mapping combines environmental data (like satellite images and climate information) and measurements taken from the field or laboratory. Data is plugged into a computer-assisted program to accurately map the soil characteristics. 

What are the benefits of digital soil mapping?

Digital soil mapping helps farmers make informed decisions about land management practices. For example, farmers can determine the best crops to plant based on soil quality, texture, moisture levels, and nutrient content, as well as benefit from enhanced planning for optimal sowing or watering windows, based on the soil condition. Access to soil data takes the guesswork out of decision making, leading to better business outcomes.  

Farmers can optimise crop selection with precise soil data, ensuring they choose plants best suited to paddock conditions. Digital soil mapping can also help identify soil degradation or nutrient deficiency, allowing farmers to implement targeted soil improvement practices. Here are four ways soil mapping can improve farm productivity

Enhanced crop management 
Understanding soil properties can allow farmers to tailor their crop management strategies, by adjusting sowing times, irrigation schedules, and fertiliser applications. This precision farming approach can lead to better crop health and higher yields.

Efficient resource allocation 
Soil survey and mapping helps farmers allocate resources like water, fertilisers, and chemicals more efficiently. By knowing where and how much of these inputs are needed, farmers can avoid overuse, saving money and reducing their environmental impact. 

Improved soil health 
Digital soil survey mapping can identify poor soil health, pinpointing areas with low organic matter or high compaction. Farmers can then take action to improve these areas, such as adding organic matter, using cover crops, or changing their tillage method, resulting in healthier and more productive soils.

Risk management 
Farmers can anticipate and manage risks with detailed soil information. For example, access to data can help plan for and mitigate risks associated with extreme weather events, protecting crop yields and farm profitability. Knowing which areas are prone to waterlogging or drought can also help farmers plan drainage systems or select drought-resistant crops. 

To further increase the value of soil mapping, Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) is creating an investment strategy focused on soil-related research, development, extension, and adoption (RDE&A). This strategy aims to prioritise future investment and deliver sustainability and productivity benefits for red meat producers.

How does digital soil mapping work?

A digital soil map is made up of a grid of pixels, where each pixel represents a geographic location and contains detailed soil information.

Unlike traditional soil mapping, which involves drawing boundaries between different soil types, digital soil mapping shows how soil properties vary across an entire landscape. This detailed information is made possible by various technologies that collect and analyse data about soil and its surroundings. 

For example, FarmLab offers a software platform where farmers can input paddock data, including soil information, and access it all in one place. This aids better understanding of their soil and informs farm business decisions.

Environmental and Cropping Technology Australia provides a consulting service using digital soil survey and mapping technology to advise on sustainable agricultural practices. This allows consultants to analyse soil data and recommend the best strategies for soil management.

To improve the digital soil mapping system, the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) is undertaking a research project to develop a system capable of measuring soil data at a finer scale than currently possible. This new system will deliver real-time information to growers, aiding their decision-making processes. 

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