Electricity gets down in the dirt

Ahmad Khalilian measures electrical conductivity in the soil to map the use of fertilizer, pesticides, irrigation and tilling.It’s no shock for any good farmer that understanding the soil is essential for success. However, it may come as a shock that a little electricity may make it a lot easier to understand the soil.    

Equipment tested at Clemson’s Edisto Research and Education Center in Blackville can produce a map that shows exactly what types of soil are in a field, whether light, heavy or somewhere in between.
“Soil texture is important for making all sorts of agricultural decisions, whether it’s applying irrigation, fertilizer and pesticides, or deciding whether or not to deep till,” said Ahmad Khalilian, Clemson agricultural engineer.
Called the Veris 3100, the equipment measures conductivity of the soil using electrically charged discs. Heavy soils containing a lot of clay and organic matter are better conductors than light, sandy soils.    
“This equipment allows a farmer to divide a field into zones and manage each differently for fertilizer, nematodes, weed control or irrigation,” he said. By putting exactly what is needed in each zone, a farmer can save time, energy and money while being more environmentally friendly.
A test to control nematodes increased cotton yields by 7 percent and reduced the amount of chemical by 34 percent using the nematicide Temik. With another chemical, Telone, the technique increased yields by 5 percent and reduced chemical use by 78 percent.
“On a 1,000-acre field, that would be a savings of $29,000,” Khalilian said. Most farmers will be able to estimate the crop yield from each part of their field by looking at an electrical conductivity map. “If you overlay a yield map at the end of the season over the EC map, they will match perfectly.”
Until this service is widely available commercially, South Carolina growers may borrow the Clemson system through their county Extension agent to conduct tests on their farms.

For information: Ahmed Khalilian, 803-284-3343, akhlln@clemson.edu