Sensors in Food and Farming

In-soil nitrate sensor technology

Dr Tony Miller of the John Innes Centre has created a prototype device to continuously measure nitrate (and, in further developments, other important nutrients) in the field throughout a whole growing season.  The early prototype has been tested successfully by a number of collaborators and has enabled accurate, real-time measurements of nitrate at various soil depths over a twelve month period, under various crops such as wheat and potato.  This unprecedented flow of data gives unique insights into changing levels of nitrate in response to fertilisation, rainfall, temperature and uptake by crop plants.  The nutrient sensing technology has been patented by PBL.

Currently Dr Miller is developing a second generation prototype with support from the Norwich Research Park Translational Fund.  This second generation prototype is using ceramics in order to make the device more robust.  Early testing is looking promising and PBL has now engaged with commercial development partners.  We expect that a commercial nitrate sensor will be available within the next two years, enabling farmers to optimise their nitrate fertilizer input leading to higher yields, lower cost and avoiding the environmental impact of nitrate leaching.

For more information on this technology (PBL Tech 12.545), please contact Dr Lars von Borcke.