Sensing the physical and nutritional status of the root environment in the field: a review of progress and opportunities

L. J. Clark, D. J. G. Gowing, R. M. Lark, P. B. Leeds-Harrison, A. J. Miller, D. M. Wells, W. R. Whalley# & A. P. Whitmore

The challenge that faces agriculture at the start of the 21st Century is to provide security of food production in a sustainable way. Achieving this task is difficult enough, but against a background of climate change, it becomes a moving target. However, one certainty is that soil factors that limit crop growth must be taken into account as new strategies for crop management are developed. To achieve this, it is necessary to measure the physical and nutritional status of the root environment in the field. Before considering measurement methods, our understanding of how the plant interacts with its soil environment is reviewed, so that it is clear what needs to be measured. Soil strength due to soil drying is identified as an important stress that limits agricultural productivity. The scope to measure soil factors that directly affect plant growth is reviewed. While in situ sensors are better developed, progress in the development of remote sensors of soil properties are also reviewed. A robust approach is needed to interpret soil measurements at the field scale and here geostatistics has much to offer. The present review takes a forward look and explores how our understanding of plant responses to soil conditions, the newly emerging sensing technologies and geostatistical tools can be drawn together to develop robust tools for soil and crop management. This is not intended to be an exhaustive review. Instead, the authors focus on those aspects that they consider to be most important and where the greatest progress is being made.

The Journal of Agricultural Science 143 (05), 347-358

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