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Soil monitor Terra Nova developed to prevent degradation of arable land

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3 min read
AUTHOR: Fiona Holland
ploughed furrows in field with blue sky

A new portable soil monitor has been created to help farmers track and prevent the degradation of soil.

The Terra Nova device allows users to measure the moisture content of topsoil as well as the level of three nutrients: nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has previously said the world is likely to run out of topsoil in 60 years’ time. With more than 90% of food grown in topsoil globally, soil degradation poses a major threat to the future of food production.

Terra Nova aims to tackle the ongoing threat of soil degradation, according to Ryan Waterhouse, who developed the concept during the final year of his product design course at the University of Bournemouth.

Terra Nova monitors topsoil health through three retractable probes which stick into the soil. From these probes, the machine records its analysis which can then be read by users through a small screen.

The data can also be read through an app connected to the machine. This option allows users to see the monitor’s recommendations for improving the quality of certain crops and overall soil health.

Terra Nova can track long and short-term degradation through its probes based on frequency domain reflectometry. The device can connect to the internet without a Wi-Fi connection through long-range (LoRa) communication frequency.

“LoRa enables long-range transmissions up to 10km distanceswith low power consumption”, Waterhouse said in a statement. “A LoRanetwork can also determine the location of the devices using triangulation without the need for GPS.”

yellow cylinder broken in two with inside parts showing on yellow background

The interior of the device. Credit: Ryan Waterhouse

yellow cylinder object on soil ground

Terra Nova planted in the soil. Credit: Ryan Waterhouse

Left: The interior of the device. Credit: Ryan Waterhouse

Right: Terra Nova planted in the soil. Credit: Ryan Waterhouse

“It is increasingly becoming more and more important to make educated and informed decisions on fertiliser usage because of recent cost increases”, according to Waterhouse. “I believe Terra Nova could significantly impact developing countries with education in increasing crop yields through correct farming practices.

Waterhouse’s product won Best New Product Designer Award at the New Designers 2022 show in London last month.

Soil health is vital to the future of food production in the UK with approximately 70% of the country’s soils being used for farming purposes. It also naturally stores carbon, keeping it from leaking into the atmosphere.

Several modern agricultural practices are extremely harmful for the soil, such as ploughing the ground and using heavy machinery, which can damage soil biology and cause carbon dioxide, one of the greenhouse gases contributing to global warming.

Efforts have recently been made to encourage British farmers to adopt no-tilling practices to protect their soil, such as the partnership between the American carbon credit registry BCarbon and British agri-food supply chain consultancy Future Food Solutions which will see the launch of a programme to help farmers earn money from planting cover seeds.

Find out more about how current agriculture practices are destroying “the most complex ecosystem on Earth”, in this Food Matters Live Podcast episode with journalist, author and activist George Monbiot:

George Monbiot: ‘Protein production must move from farm to factory’


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