March 04, 2024

Staged rollout set for Radicle soil testing system

Dale Koch, Precision Planting Radicle product manager, holds a GeoTube that’s used to collect soil samples for the Radicle Lab. The GeoTubes have a permanent electronic RFID tag that is automatically read and the sample is geotagged and recorded in the cloud.

TREMONT, Ill. — A new all-inclusive process that moves away from the tedious century-long soil sample and testing methods was rolled out at Precision Planting’s Winter Conference.

Radicle Agronomics is a suite of soil sampling and analysis tools to improve the efficiency and repeatability of the soil sample-to-fertilizer recommendation process.

“We are entering a new era of soil fertility management. Radicle Agronomics can help growers optimize the way they manage their fertilizer by integrating and improving all steps of the decision process,” said Dale Koch, Radicle product manager, Precision Planting.

The Radicle Agronomics process includes GeoTubes, GeoPress and Radicle Lab. Each GeoTube for soil sample collection has a unique, permanent electronic RFID tag that is automatically read and the sample is geotagged and recorded in the cloud.

These geo-referenced, reusable tubes are automatically filled with the soil sample from the GeoPress, then returned to Radicle Lab where they are loaded into the system, associated with the field location, and analyzed for soil nutrients.

The GeoPress eliminates the chore of recordkeeping and bag-handling in soil sampling. GeoPress mounts on any field-ready vehicle and automatically blends and stores the soil sample in GeoTube.

Between the shop and the field, data flows seamlessly between GeoPress and Radicle Lab, eliminating the hassle of hand-labeled samples.

The samples are brought back to the machine shed on the farm where a Radicle Lab is set up. The Radicle Lab is the world’s first self-contained fully automated soil laboratory.

Its small footprint, self-calibration technology and the ability to run hundreds of samples unattended allow agronomists to simplify their workflow.

The patent-pending Microflow technology built into Radicle Lab removes all human touches which occur in the traditional laboratory process.

“The goal is not only having control of what soil samples get run first, and not only the efficiency of taking samples and putting them right on the rack instead of getting them shipped to a lab, but this lab is designed so that it doesn’t cut corners. This lab is designed to be efficient and accurate,” Koch said.

“Any of the steps that were time-sensitive are now fully automated, taking care of any risk of differences from one sample to the next. This lab doesn’t require a team of chemists to run it. It simply requires a garden hose (the water coming out of the garden hose is purified in the system), an electrical connection and compressed air.

“The lab thinks for itself, calibrates itself, checks itself and fixes itself. The lab takes care of itself. The goal is that Radicle Lab delivers a maximum accuracy analysis in record time. From the time a sample is placed in the rack to the time that sample is coming through is only 15 to 20 minutes later.”

Once in the lab, the GeoTube cap is automatically taken off, each soil samples is pushed out, the plunger will retract, the tube is washed and then the tube is returned to the basket ready for use again.

The lab grounds and blends the soil, and anything larger than 2 millimeters is rejected. Once the soil is ground, a precise soil-to-water ratio process is conducted.

The soil is then automatically sent to the back of the lab into the Microflow technology, a system of pneumatic valves and pumps that are imbedded inside of an acrylic manifold.

This automates many of the processes that take place in the lab and eliminates errors that have happened from the human touches.

Final Step

The final step in the integrated Radicle system is Precision Planting purpose-built software that allows users to set up field boundaries, track the GeoPress’ location and view sample results from the lab.

“Agronomists and growers will be able to more easily determine soil pH, buffer pH, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, calcium, cation exchange capacity and base saturation, providing a wealth of information to allow for precision application of fertilizer,” Koch said.

The Radicle system is planned for a staged rollout, with a limited number of GeoPress systems in the field in 2024 and a beta with the Radicle Lab. Agronomists with interest in using a GeoPress can contact Precision Planting for more information.

“We believe that there are huge opportunities in the future of soil fertility management. The current system has problems. We believe that’s an opportunity for all of us in the industry. We have to tie the fertilizer crop response data, the recommendation system, to a lab. Without it, we don’t know what truth is,” Koch said.

“There’s a lot more that really needs to go into a recommendation than a soil test number and a yield goal. Our vision is to equip the farmer and the farmer’s team to make these decisions.

“We’re not saying we want to stand 1,000 miles away in Tremont, Illinois, and say this is exactly the rate you ought to apply.

“What we’re saying is we want to give the tools, the data and the decision support for the farmer’s team that’s at the kitchen table or in the farm office.”

Tom Doran

Tom C. Doran

Field Editor