Instant samples offer quick decisions on the farm

Whether it is leaves or soils, the lab-in-a-box solution puts portable testing in hands of farmers and agronomists

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Glacier FarmMedia – The METOS MobiLab provides soil and sap nutrient measurement in less than two hours.

“We can measure nitrate and ammonia from the soil analysis part of the mobile lab, as well as the sodium and chlorine,” said Guy Ash of METOS during a webinar.

Why it matters: Quick, reliable soil tests can help producers make in-time decisions based on the results.

“In terms of plant sap, we can also measure the potassium, the sulfate, the calcium and magnesium.”

The METOS MobiLab uses capillary electrophoresis to analyze the nutrients in a soil or plant sap sample, with the company’s Lab-on-a-Chip (LOAC).

“The ions of the chemicals are separated on the chip according to their chemical nature. Then the detector measures the concentration of that particular chemical at the end of the capillary,” Ash said.

The LOAC has a measurement range of three to 1,000 parts per million (0.01-0.5 grams per kilogram), a resolution of 0.5 ppm (one milligram per kg), an accuracy of plus or minus three per cent for liquid concentrates in ppm, and an accuracy of plus or minus 15 per cent for measurements of soil concentrations in mg per kg.

Ash said a conventional laboratory provides higher precision results but time lags of up to four days prevent growers from using the information to make quick decisions with their results.

With the METOS MobiLab, the soil samples are tested right after they are taken so they can be kept at the same temperature, which can improve the system’s accuracy.

Also, conventional laboratories can “cost a significant amount of money per sample for a location, hence that leads to less samples in a field, whereas you may need more samples to give a better result of what’s going on in the field,” Ash said.

To use the MobiLab, operators will use the company’s app on their smartphone when they take samples in the field.

Every sample will get a three-letter identification code that users mark on the plastic sample bag, which will help keep track of when the sample was taken, the sample depth, and the GPS co-ordinates that can be integrated with other tools like satellite imagery.

A two-millimetre mesh sieve is used to separate stones, leaves, roots, and other debris so only soil is added to the sample bag.

The MobiLab comes in a case that has everything needed to set up a lab in a producer’s or agronomist’s home office.

The portable lab plugs into a personal computer, which is where users will type the letter code into the MobiLab program when the soil samples are taken back to the office, as well as where sample results are displayed.

“You weigh your sample, you put it through the centrifuge to mix it well, and eventually you’re extracting out a solution that gets put within a little hole on the mobile lab,” Ash said.

“Within a short period of time you get within the software a breakdown of the chemicals that are within that particular sample.”

The soil nutrient data is related to GPS co-ordinates using the mobile app and sent to the company’s web-cloud, FieldClimate, where it is stored and accessible for users.

The data is converted and used with other agronomic software as well as with automatic variable rate application with precision farm machinery like fertilizer spreaders and sprayers.

Ash said the METOS MobiLab helps producers follow modern fertilization protocols, by helping them quickly know when, where and at which rate to apply the exact fertilizer product a crop needs.

Pessl Instruments produces a portfolio of instruments dedicated to nutrient management offered through METOS, including METOS MobiLab, the Dualex that is a leafclip sensor that measures chlorophyll and polyphenols content of plant leaves, and the MobiLab LaquaTwin that is a hand-held instrument for nitrate measurements.

The real-time, geo-referenced results provided by METOS MobiLab can be used in conjunction with other devices including soil moisture probes by pushing their information to a combined dashboard so users can have all the information in one spot.

For more information on the METOS MobiLab, or any Metos products offered in Canada, go to metoscanada.ca.

METOS Canada is owned by Glacier FarmMedia, the same company that owns Farmtario.

This article was originally published at The Western Producer.

About the author

Glacier FarmMedia staff

Robin Booker is a reporter with Glacier FarmMedia.

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