Soil moisture sensors can help manage grazing

By: Juan P. Alvez | Pasture Technical Coordinator

UVM Center for Sustainable Agriculture

As predictions for the Northeastern U.S. suggest wetter, warmer climate in the near future, the use of technology such as precision agriculture, can be of great use to enable a more sustainable modern day farming.

One of the tools the Center for Sustainable Agriculture (UVM Extension) is using to evaluate, for example, the most appropriate moment to graze, are soil moisture sensors (SMS). They can track real-time water movement and record information that can be instantly viewed on a computer or on a smartphone.

Soil moisture varies depending on soil types, precipitation and temperature. Soil moisture devices can be used under several ground cover conditions, and can help create moisture maps of the areas by the use of global positioning systems (GPS) at any given time in the season.

By using devices such as SMS, farmers are able to make real-time decisions about where they will place their animals, establish crops and without causing soil compaction or destroying their ground cover.

In 2015, we installed three-SMS at Health Hero Island Farm in South Hero, VT as part of a 3-year USDA NRCS funded research. Eric Nöel -who grazes about 80 cows at Health Hero Island Farm-, welcomes cutting-edge research that can help him and other farmers take instant action on farm management decisions. Nöel understands that placing animals or, running machinery on wet soils can quickly aggravate soil physical conditions like structure, compaction and infiltration.

Installing soil moisture sensors in the field

Joshua Faulkner installing soil moisture sensors in the field

Installed soil moisture sensor (back view)

Installed soil moisture sensor (back view)

Installed soil moisture sensor (front view)

Installed soil moisture sensor (front view)

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