Low cost, real-time soil carbon quantification could be a game changer

A new partnership between two companies with technologies rooted in artificial intelligence is making carbon quantification more accessible, profitable and scalable for farmers and landowners.

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Quebec-based ChrysaLabs is an agtech startup that uses cloud computing, artificial intelligence and machine learning for precision soil sampling in real time. It has teamed up with EarthOptics, a soil measurement and mapping company from Virginia that won the AGCO Innovation Challenge Award at the World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit last year. 

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Why it matters: The soil’s ability to sequester carbon has long been considered a climate change mitigation solution, but so far, it’s been difficult to quantify carbon levels in an affordable, accessible way.

The goal: combine ChrysaLabs’ real time soil measurements with EarthOptics’ high-resolution sensor measurements for faster, better decision-making on the farm – and to open up carbon market opportunities for farmers.

The carbon market is there, and land can lock in a substantial amount of carbon, noted ChrysaLabs co-founder and CEO Samuel Fournier in announcing the partnership. The main challenge is making it financially viable for growers.

That’s because carbon quantification requires huge volumes of data, and since traditional soil sampling requires payment per sample, it quickly becomes cost prohibitive.

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ChrysaLabs, which uses spectroscopy to measure soil nutrients, was founded four years ago, evolving out of a PhD project in Biomedical Engineering at Polytechnique Montreal.

“Every nutrient has its own wavelength so it’s possible to measure them in the soil based on 100 per cent light,” says Philippe De L’Étoile, marketing manager at ChrysaLabs. “This is patented technology and ChrysaLabs developed a probe based on this technology.”

Developed to be its own cutting-edge lab, the handheld probe can sample soil as deep as 36 inches with its optical technology, compared to traditional testing that focuses primarily on topsoil.

In less than a minute, it can provide real-time measurements of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, soil pH, moisture, organic matter, micronutrients and cation exchange capacity – the soil’s ability to hold positively charged ions. These results are uploaded to a management dashboard, and every test can be geo-referenced to create fertilizer maps.

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According to De L’Étoile, the ChrysaLabs technology lets the company’s clients do as many samples as they want for a flat rate subscription instead of having to pay for each individual soil sample that’s sent to a lab for analysis. More samples mean greater data density, which in turn means better, more effective decision-making that ultimately can save growers money.

“Our probe is easy to use and one of the least expensive ways to get into precision agriculture,” De L’Étoile said. “With higher data density, it’s easy to grid fields and create maps for variable rate fertilizer application – and you can adjust during the season and apply what’s needed instantly.”

Data can be a gamechanger when it comes to managing fertilizer use, he adds. Not only is the time of application crucial for maximum efficiency, but so is applying the right amount – for both the bank account and the environment.

“Lowering fertilizer use even one to three per cent has huge impact on lowering costs, especially given the current cost of fertilizer, and there’s less environmental impact too,” he said. “Knowing exactly what is happening on your fields and in your soil invariably leads to sustainability.”

ChrysaLabs has been working with farmers, agronomists and researchers in Quebec and Western Canada as well as in the U.S. Midwest, California, Mexico and Chile to develop use cases and gather more data to help the artificial intelligence system behind the probe provide more accurate, precise results.

The current ChrysaLabs probe is a handheld unit, but a static probe is also in development that could be used in high-value orchard crops like tree fruit and nuts.

“Carbon is very interesting for the future. The way our planet is going, we need to do something and we know we can help growers realize benefits,” he said. “It’s in our DNA to make the benefits of being sustainable possible to growers and to agriculture.”

Source: Farmtario.com