Defra - Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Science Search

Science and Research Projects

Return to Science Search homepage   Return to Project List

Sensing the physical and nutritional status of the root growth environment - AR0913

Description


Abstract of Research Proposal

The root environment has a major effect on crop growth, both directly through the supply of water and nutrients to the shoot, and indirectly through root to shoot signalling. Better management of crop root systems through agronomic and genetic means has the potential to improve the efficiency of water and nutrient uptake, and limit root restrictions to crop growth. However, progress in this area is currently limited by the lack of sensors for in situ estimates of soil water, strength and nutritional status in the field. These data are needed to understand and predict the physiological response of a crop to its growth environment. The main objective of this research project is therefore to develop practical low maintenance sensors that can be used to monitor soil matric potential, soil strength and N mineralisation in the field environment.

In the development of this project proposal we have taken into account the problems of crop physiology and nutrition which have been identified by MAFF. In particular, the project is directed at sensing crop and environment conditions (R2) in the root zone (1). The project will lead to the development of sensors that could be used by crop physiologists, agronomists and farmers. This will allow a better understanding of how the root environment affects crop growth in the field. Specifically, it is anticipated that it will be possible to obtain better predictions of crop growth and yield if the soil strength, water availability and the available N can be determined in situ with the sensors that we propose to develop and test. This project will lead to the future development of DESSAC-compliant models for improved decision making. The use of sensors developed in this project will therefore support MAFF’s policy for arable crops of assisting in the development of efficient and environmentally responsible production systems.

Summary of Objectives

1. To construct a sensor for matric potential of soil water which can operate between 0 and –200 kPa without the need for maintenance.

2. To test the hypothesis that the product of soil water matric potential and the degree of saturation can be used as an index of soil strength in subsoils commonly found in the UK arable sector.

3. To determine the envelope of soil conditions in which the electrical conductivity of the pore water gives reliable estimates of the rate of N mineralisation. We will determine the range of clay contents and water contents in which electrical conductivity of the pore water can be used as an index of N mineralisation.

4. To relate the index of soil strength developed in objective 2 to root and shoot development in a drying soil in both laboratory and field conditions.

5. To review the scope for monitoring and recording data from a number of sensors in the field environment. The output of the project will be summarised in a document that is understandable by farmers and gives a critical evaluation of the achievements and problems so that a future strategy can be developed.

Funding Information
£299,000

Start Date 1 September 2001
Completion Date 31 August 2004

Objective
1. To construct a sensor for matric potential of soil water which can operate between 0 and –200 kPa without the need for maintenance.

2. To test the hypothesis that the product of soil water matric potential and the degree of saturation can be used as an index of soil strength in subsoils commonly found in the UK arable sector.

3. To determine the envelope of soil conditions in which the electrical conductivity of the pore water gives reliable estimates of the rate of N mineralisation. We will determine the range of clay contents and water contents in which electrical conductivity of the pore water can be used as an index of N mineralisation.

4. To relate the index of soil strength developed in objective 2 to root and shoot development in a drying soil in both laboratory and field conditions.

5. To review the scope for monitoring and recording data from a number of sensors in the field environment. The output of the project will be summarised in a document that is understandable by farmers and gives a critical evaluation of the achievements and problems so that a future strategy can be developed.
Project Documents
• Final Report : Sensing the physical and nutritional status of the root growth   (2157k)
Time-Scale and Cost
From: 2001

To: 2004

Cost: £298,878
Contractor / Funded Organisations
Silsoe Research Institute (BBSRC)
Keywords
Arable Farming              
Crop Improvement              
Crops              
Farming              
Soil              
Sustainable Farming and Food              
Sustainable Production              
Fields of Study
Arable Crops