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Is soil fingerprinting the future way to track soil health?

New methodology tracks soil health changes in top soil

By Melissa Higgins, University of Guelph Agricultural Communications Student, for


Federal researchers are developing a tool to help track important soil health characteristics.

The tool, a soil fingerprinting framework, is a new methodology to track changes in soil characteristics that are important to soil health in the top soil, called the A-horizon. Monitoring the changes in the A-horizon will allow for a better understanding of the soil’s ability to be able to produce yields economically, while minimizing environmental impact.

Dr. Catherine Fox, a now-retired research scientist at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC), started the project.  “My goal was to provide enhanced soil description methodology for detailed monitoring and recording of soil changes when implementing best management practices for soil remediation, and improving soil quality to improve crop yields and sustainable use of the soil,” she says.

AAFC scientists Natalie Feisthauer and David Kroetsch are continuing the research to evaluate the framework under Ontario conditions and to develop guidance materials so non-soil specialists can use the tool.

The system has two aspects: the framework and a field form. The framework is the backbone of the system, which uses a unique combination of codes and symbols to represent soil characteristics found in a given soil sample at the time it was sampled, creating the soil “fingerprint.”

By inputting the characteristics into the electronic field form it automatically generates the fingerprint. Comparing the created fingerprints will then allow for better understanding when making soil and crop management decisions.

Currently, the only people using the field form are members of the research community because it’s still in the development stage. A scientific paper describing the framework and electronic field form is available on request, and is being modified to be more users friendly.

The framework and its field form are a standalone tool to track changes in the characteristics of individual soil samples. It has not been integrated into precision agricultural methods, although the information from soil fingerprints could provide more information to explain yield differences in a field that may help with the way precision management could be implemented.

Once the system has been made more user friendly there will be workshops held to teach its proper use. The goal for the workshops will be to increase the awareness of the framework, along with teaching all users how to get the maximum benefit and proper interpretation of the results.

Developed in Ontario and validated in Ontario, British Columbia and Germany, this framework methodology has the potential to be implemented in many different regions. It could also be used in other countries where there is interest in a new tool to track changes in important soil health characteristics.

This article is part of Melissa Higgins’ course work for the University of Guelph agricultural communications course, instructed by Prof. Owen Roberts.

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