How variable is your soil?

Grid soil sampling has historically been the gold standard to measure nutrient variability in soils. In many regions, 1 hectare or 2.5 acre grids have been a very common strategy, with not a lot of technology needed to do it.  But it is time consuming and expensive. It’s A LOT of sampling.  But perhaps the biggest issue is that it assumes, to some extent, that these made-up squares that are completely unrelated to topography or soil differences will be enough to capture all the true variability that exists in a field. So, is grid sampling good enough? Or can we do better with newer technology?

This is the question we at Croptimistic wanted to answer, so we picked a few fields in different regions and soils in Canada. It’s simple really – you lay out 2.5 acre grids, and then take several soil samples at different points within the grid.  In our case we were curious if SWAT soil based management zones captured significant variability within the 2.5 acre grid.

The results were very much what we expected – there can be a lot of soil and nutrient variability within a 2.5 acre square! There can also be a big difference between soil water status due to landscape position, and therefore crop yield potential.  Below are field and soil test results from the University of Alberta Breton Farm, which is currently established perennial hay.  The whole field is only 6 acres, so in this case the soil test points are within only 1 acre.

There is significant variability in several attributes including organic matter, pH, P, S, and most micronutrients. The trends are ones we commonly see – lower landscape positions (in this case, the zone 9 point) that collect water and eroded soil from knolls are often high in organic matter with deep top-soil (depicted in subsoil OM%) and have higher nutrient levels. The difference that doesn’t show on the soil test was soil moisture. In zone 9, the soil probe easily went in the soil to 12”, with soil moisture likely close to field capacity. In contrast, the zone 1 point took some effort to get the probe in, and the soil was already quite dry.

The site at Breton Farm was unique in that it was grass hay (brome) and was unfertilized. So, any variability in the brome grass was due to soil and water variability, not from historical site-specific management. For this reason, we took a tissue test at the exact same points where soil tests were taken, shortly before the brome entered the reproductive stage – typically a time of high nutrient demand for all crops. The tissue test results are shown below.

*Sufficient levels are a general guideline based on the Manitoba Soil Fertility Guide (2007).

As expected based on visual observation, the grass appears to be quite nutrient deficient and would benefit from applied nitrogen and phosphorus. Several trends in the tissue results followed the soil test well – particularly N, P, Ca, S, and Cl.  Tissue N and S reflect the soil’s ability to mineralize these nutrients from organic matter. Phosphorus availability is likely reflective of the extractable soil P as well as potential fixation from Al in acid soil in zones 1 and 5. Mn levels are also quite high in zones with acidic soil – something we’ve observed in canola as well in this area, to the point where Mn toxicity is causing visual symptoms on canola leaves and likely root pruning. Stunted roots then lead to poorer uptake of all nutrients, particularly relatively immobile P, Cu, and Zn. It’s a vicious cycle, and one that can only be solved with pH amendments such as lime, cement kiln dust (CKD), or wood ash. 

The combination of soil and tissue data clearly demonstrate the nutrient supplying power of different soils within a small area of the field, and that these differences can be efficiently mapped and measured using modern precision ag tools. The benefits are multi-faceted – economic advantages for the farm resulting from applying the right rates in the right areas, and environmental benefits or reduced nutrient applications where they are not needed.  It’s simply 4R Nutrient Stewardship in high resolution.

FieldView and SWAT MAPS deliver one-two punch for knockout results

Top digital farming platforms that work well together can generate powerful synergies that bring tremendous added value to your farm.

This is the case with Croptimistic (creator of SWAT MAPS and SWAT RECORDS) and FieldView.

“The level of integration between FieldView and our software SWAT RECORDS is second to none,” says Trevor Friesen, Product Manager with Croptimistic. “Our teams have worked together to make sure everything syncs seamlessly between the two technology platforms. Growers using this combination will reap the rewards of having some of the best integrated data possible to guide their digital farming strategy and get the best results.”

As many growers are familiar, FieldView is a leading digital farming platform that allows you to collect, stream, and analyze operational data across farms and equipment. Its strengths complement those of the SWAT RECORDS software’s SWAT MAPS, which combine soil, water and topography layers into single high resolution zone maps that support digital farming strategies.

“The benefits of optimal integration means a higher sophistication and quality of information driving your success”, says Friesen, who has been in his role for five years and works daily helping integrate new customers with the system while also providing support to existing users.

“As the portfolio of options to support digital farming continues to expand, it has never been more important for those options to work well together. This is the advantage growers can capture by using SWAT RECORDS and FieldView. I can’t think of a better combination you can choose to have for the best, most complete information driving your farming decisions.”

SWAT MAPS supports strategies such as variable rate fertilizer, seed and herbicide applications as well as precision soil amendment and water management approaches. Data layers are collected using an autonomous mapping system called the SWAT BOX. A central datahub, SWAT RECORDS, is where SWAT MAPS and associated information is stored.

The Croptimistic also imports multi-zone soil sample information into SWAT RECORDS to help create variable rate prescriptions for a wide variety of controllers. The system focuses on soil-based data that is spatial in nature and represents permanent soil structures within the field. When used in combination with FieldView, this information integrates perfectly with the data on yield potential, weather, planting, and crop management inputs that FieldView provides.

“Fieldview offers an easy way to keep digital records, map trials, make better decisions and track crops all season long, along with field health imagery,” observes Friesen. “Mapping with the FieldView Drive provides an easy way to collect data in a cab with a great visual and no need for USB. Our partnership enables a two-way flow of information between the two technology platforms that results in an experience similar to using one system. All you need to do is connect your FieldView and SWAT RECORDS accounts.”

While the SWAT RECORDS software can import planting, spraying and yield data from FieldView, it can also send its proprietary SWAT MAP images to the FieldView platform so farmers can take advantage of both technologies seamlessly, he explains. “As SWAT MAPS are permanent, farmers can always use them to make proactive management decisions about their fields at any time of the year.”

The benefits keep growing year after year as additional features are added, he notes. For example, Croptimistic recently launched SWAT WATER. “After two years of development, SWAT WATER will enable our partners and clients to have a complete surface and subsurface ‘picture’ of soil hydrology. SWAT WATER maps are updated weekly and deliver information to farmers for variable rate irrigation, in-season topdressing, and fungicide related management decisions.”

The advantages of this airtight integration extend beyond just the technologies to also the people using them, he observes. “Being able to sync between the farm and consultants is key to keeping everybody informed. This allows all parties to have access to the data layers that's needed to make informed decisions.”

The instant, real-time, wireless nature of the connectivity fits the next generation of digital farming, he notes. “There’s no lag time. All the data is there updated whenever you want it. To have this level of data transfer between both systems is a huge advantage for efficiency and quality of the user experience.”

The combination of data gives a complete view of some of the most important key details farmers need to know to maximize yield and other key results, he says. “Everything is targeted to the areas that bring the most efficiency and profitability. For example, our relationship with FieldView has become a cornerstone to a new goal for us which is building a leading-edge yield potential program. For our SWAT MAPS customers, we want our relationship to provide them with connections and tools that bring added value to their business. FieldView makes this goal and the process to get there very simple for us.”

The process to connect FieldView and SWAT RECORDS accounts is simple, he says. “For our users, it’s as easy as opening up your SWAT RECORDS account and clicking on the prompts to connect to your FieldView account. It’s a similar experience going the other way around. There’s really no barrier to quickly and simply integrating the systems.”

You can learn more about Climate FieldView at

SWAT 010: Rob Swieter on Zone Management and ServiTech's Partnership with SWAT MAPS

ServiTech’s Rob Swieter joins the show to talk about their new partnership with SWAT MAPS. This alliance will provide farmers with enhanced tools for informed decision-making on their farms through the practical application of high-resolution soil maps, data, process, machinery, and agronomy knowledge. ServiTech provides independent crop consulting and laboratory services throughout Iowa, where Rob is located, but also in Texas, Kansas, Colorado, and Nebraska. Rob and I discuss how he looks at zone management, what led to becoming a SWAT MAPS partner, how the current conditions are impacting farmer perspectives on variable rate technology.

“I wanted something that was the tip of the spear, as I like to say, the industry leading solution. And that's what SWAT MAPS provides. So it's a turnkey solution. They've got everything figured out. It works perfectly. It provides the highest quality zone map possible in my opinion. And it works for what we're trying to do.” - Rob Swieter, Iowa Territory Leader with ServiTech

On Today’s Episode:

1:54 - Meet Rob Swieter and hear about the background he brought to ServiTech when he joined them as territory leader last year

3:07 - Discover why ServiTech is partnering with SWAT MAPS and how zone management can greatly benefit their customers especially with variable seed and fertilizer rates

7:17 - Explore what ServiTech has to offer producers and their history as an independent crop consultant company and laboratory

9:44 - Learn about the unique characteristics of Iowa that producers need to adjust for making ServiTech’s services very valuable

10:50 - Explore the local interest in Iowa into zone mapping and the limitations they may have experienced in grid sampling prior to employing SWAT MAPS

12:24 - Hear about how Rob introduces the use of management zones based on proper data layers to producers who may not be aware of their benefits

13:30 - Learn about the logistics of using a SWAT box and how the ServiTech agronomists use and apply it to different operations

15:04 - Discover how the influence of input prices has increased the interest in zone management and variable rate technology

16:32 - Explore the SWAT Academy and the onboarding process for the ServiTech team

17:42 - Learn who is the ideal ServiTech customer and the broad customer base they serve

Make sure you subscribe to this show on your podcast platform of choice. You’ll find the SWAT Agronomy Podcast on all of them: iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, etc.

If you have a question you want answered on a future episode, send it to us on Twitter using the hashtag #SWATAgronomy.

The SWAT Agronomy Podcast is brought to you by SWAT MAPS, and hosted by Tim Hammerich.

Croptimistic receives $1.1M of CAAIN funding for $5M project to Automate and Scale SWAT MAPS

SASKATOON, SK – APRIL 26, 2022: Croptimistic Technology Inc. (Croptimistic), a Canadian AgTech company, has assembled an impressive partnership to automate and scale SWAT MAPS to advance Canadian agriculture. This $5 million project will see academic and on-farm researchers, industry players, and smart farm staff collaborate to develop new soil and crop technologies and validate them with agricultural producers. $1.1M of this project will be funded through the Canadian Agri-Food Automation and Intelligence Network (CAAIN).

Farmers spend a large component of their budget on soil-applied inputs—such as fertilizer, seed, and herbicides. They need precise soil, water, and topography (SWAT) data when planning optimal site-specific applications. Crop “yield potential” technology such as satellite imagery of crop biomass and growth is relatively common. Far more difficult to source is accurate, automated, artificial intelligence-ready “soil potential” information generated by soil-based hardware and software—information of vital importance to farmers planning optimal input application. This project led by Croptimistic in collaboration with researchers at the University of Regina, the University of Prince Edward Island, and the University of Saskatchewan will expand SWAT MAPS’s capacity, eventually allowing it to answer questions such as, "which seed varieties grow best in dry zones, wet zones, or saline areas, or specific soil types?”

By collaborating with commercial and smart farms across the country, SWAT MAPS will develop scalable analytics and agronomic validation solutions supporting the widespread adoption of precision agriculture. This in turn, will improve producer profitability and environmental sustainability. From soil-based AI to scalable field execution, this project will lead the way as Canada's premier soil technology.

“This project will combine years of practical on-farm experience from SWAT MAPS and other industry partners with leading academic researchers across Canada. The result will be new and improved tools that will help Canadian farmers make better decisions in the field when it comes to applying seed, fertilizer, and other inputs.” said Evan MacDonald, P.E.I.-based PhD candidate and project lead for Croptimistic. Cory Willness, CEO of Croptimistic adds “We are privileged to have our SWAT ECOSYSTEM working directly with the team of experts spanning across three Canadian universities on automating technologies such as plant stand counts, soil survey connections, and on-farm trial evaluations”

Dean Angela Bedard-Haughn, College of Agriculture, at the University of Saskatchewan mentions “Our SKSIS (Saskatchewan Soil Information System) team is excited to be working with Croptimistic to incorporate more soil information into their toolkit, which in turn will help farmers make better management decisions.” Steve Shirtliffe, Professor of Plant Sciences at the University of Saskatchewan says “I’m really looking forward to working with Croptimistic and its customers to develop new ways to optimize crop input rates.” Associate Professor, from the University of Regina, Abdul Bais adds “Our partnership has been of immense value to us. It has provided us with funds, data and interesting real-world problems to solve.”

“We were very impressed with the Croptimistic submission in response to our October 2020 funding call,” said CAAIN CEO, Kerry Wright. “Their concept of developing automation and artificial intelligence of SWAT maps is remarkable, and as one of the largest projects of the seven we greenlighted, its scope and scale reflect the important benefits it will provide to Canadian producers. ‘Doing more with less,’ is the new mantra of the agri-food sector, and precision agriculture is an important piece of that puzzle. Any initiative that advances the adoption of such technology must be supported, wherever possible.”

About Croptimistic Technology Inc.: Croptimistic Technology Inc. is an international AgTech company that provides SWAT MAPS, a turn-key variable rate process that prioritizes Soil, Water, and Topography factors of fields for the creation of management zones. Their SWAT RECORDS software powers the entire SWAT ECOSYSTEM of products, all of which are synced with the app for real-time viewing. Learn more about SWAT products and how you can leverage SWAT MAPS by visiting

About CAAIN: The Canadian Agri-Food Automation and Intelligence Network is a not-for-profit company launched in July 2019 with funding of $49.5 million from the Government of Canada’s Strategic Innovation Fund and assistance from Alberta Innovates in the form of significant in-kind contributions. CAAIN champions AgTech innovation and connectivity to feed the future. Learn more by visiting

For more information, contact:

Nicole Kadziolka
Marketing Manager

Fertilizer Stabilizers: How Do We Use Them?

Often called by many names in the marketplace — nitrogen stabilizers, controlled release products or nitrogen inhibitors ­— fertilizer stabilizers are used to increase the efficiency of applied nitrogen when conditions for loss exist. Inhibitors are classified as urease inhibitors, nitrification inhibitors, or polymer coatings. What do these products do and how can we use them to increase nitrogen efficiency?

Urease inhibitors

Urease inhibitors temporarily block the activity of the urease enzyme found in soil. These products are used with urea fertilizer and UAN. UAN is made of 50% urea N, 25% ammonium N, and 25% nitrate N. For UAN the urease inhibitor would only be active on the urea portion of the product. (See Table 1. Composition of nitrogen fertilizers table, below)

These products protect against ammonia (NH3) volatilization to the air as a gas. Once urea or UAN is incorporated two to three inches into the soil it is protected as the ammonium (NH4+) released has a positive charge and can promptly be held by the soil’s cation exchange sites. Urease inhibitors should be used for N products that are applied on the soil surface or very close to the soil surface <2” deep.

Products on the market include (N-(n-butyl) thiophosphoric acid triamide (NBPT) and duromide.

Nitrification inhibitors

Nitrification inhibitors disrupt and briefly reduce the activity of Nitrosomonas and Nitrobacter bacteria populations in soil that convert ammonium into nitrite, and ultimately nitrate.

These products can be used with ammonia fertilizer, urea, and UAN. They protect against denitrification and leaching as it keeps the nitrogen in the ammonium form (NH4+). Denitrification or leaching losses occur when nitrate (N03-) is susceptible to loss. Nitrification inhibitors protect against losses of N when the fertilizer N is in the soil.

Products on the market include nitrapyrin, dicyandiamide (DCD), pronitridine (Centuro), 3,4-dimethylphyrazole phosphate (DMPP).

There are many products available, so please read the labels for rates, duration of protection, and which nitrogen products they are labelled for.

Table 1: Composition of Nitrogen Fertilizers

Figure 1. The nitrogen cycle (Source: Manitoba Agriculture​)

Understanding the fate of your fertilizer in the soil is essential to understanding how and why you would use each nitrogen inhibitor.

1) What happens when Ammonia or NH3 is applied to the soil?

The NH3 combines with H20 = NH4+ + OH-.

This NH4+ or ammonium gets transformed into nitrate or NO3- under moist soil conditions. It undergoes nitrification.

Nitrification – soil bacteria convert ammonium (NH4+) to nitrate (NO3-) within a few days or weeks when soils are warm and moist.

It is a 2 step conversion!!

nitrosomonas nitrobacter

NH4+ → NO2- → NO3-

ammonium nitrite nitrate

Which is why nitrification inhibitors work with ammonia.

2) What happens when Urea or CO(NH2)2 is applied to the soil?

CO(NH2)2 + H20 + urease enzymes = NH4CO or ammonium carbonate which is very unstable.

NH4CO quickly splits into NH3 + CO2 (This NH3 form is gaseous and susceptible to losses.)

The NH3 combines with H20 = NH4+ which under moist soil conditions gets transformed into NO3-. It undergoes nitrification as shown above.

Which is why urease inhibitors and nitrification inhibitors work with urea.

3) What happens when UAN or CH6N4O4 is applied to the soil?

UAN is made up of urea CO(NH2)2, ammonium NH4+, and nitrate NO3-.

The NO3- portion is immediately available for plant uptake.

The NH4+ portion can be used directly by plants, but it rapidly oxidized by soil bacteria through nitrification to form NO3- as shown above.

The urea portion undergoes the same process as listed above which needs urease enzymes – it forms NH4+which consequently gets transformed into NO3- under moist soil conditions.

Which is why nitrification inhibitors and urease inhibitors work with UAN.

Another nitrogen fertilizer we have yet to mention is ESN. ESN is considered a controlled release product. The urea form of N is enclosed in a coating of polymer that allows the urea to diffuse out over time when there is enough moisture.

What is important to note about these products is that they do not guarantee an increase in yields. But under loss conditions, these products minimize the losses so more nitrogen would be crop available. The problem has also been that when placement, timing, and weather is optimal these products offer no yield advantage over traditional N sources. They only add cost.

What if we could make a more informed decision on where to place these products in the field? We understand that we should use nitrification inhibitors where there is the greatest potential for loss such as warm, wet soil conditions. We also know that the advantages are less likely in well-drained, dry soils. With SWAT MAPS we can target the acres of highest risk and apply these products in a cost-effective way and where the environmental risk is highest.

In this example we have a grower that is applying a liquid NPS blend on canola. With the Raven sidekick option, we have an option to apply N-Serve (a nitrapyrin product or nitrification inhibitor) as an on/off in zones six to 10, which are the wettest areas of the field and most at risk for loss. It is also an environmental benefit as we are reducing the risk of denitrification. We are also being much more cost effective since we are only treating a portion of the field; in this case 47 percent of the acres.

Figure 2. VR prescription for applying liquid NPS on canola

In another example, we can use a controlled release product like ESN and place a portion of the nitrogen required in the SWAT MAPS zones that are also at higher risk of loss because these zones are wetter and remain wetter for a longer duration of the crop year.

Figure 3. VR prescription for applying NPK as well as ESN

Nitrogen stabilizers can increase nitrogen use efficiency when conditions for loss are present. The choices are using urease inhibitors on surface applied or <2” depth incorporated urea or UAN products. Or, to use a nitrification inhibitor in soil-applied ammonia, urea or UAN fertilizers. An ESN controlled release fertilizer can be used as well to protect your nitrogen investment.

High resolution SWAT MAPS allow us to further maximize these ideas and place both fertilizer and products in the zones with the highest risks of environmental and nitrogen loss. Talk to your SWAT certified agronomist about how to use nitrogen stabilizers with your SWAT MAPS.

Amber Knaggs
Precision Agronomist

ServiTech Inc. joins USA Partner Network to Bring SWAT MAPS to Iowa Farmers

DES MOINES, IA – March 16, 2021 – Croptimistic Technology Inc. is pleased to welcome U.S.-based ServiTech Inc. to their ever-growing partner network. This alliance will provide farmers with enhanced tools for informed decision-making on their farms through the practical application of high-resolution soil maps, data, process, machinery, and agronomy knowledge.

“We are happy to announce this new addition to our partner network,” says Croptimistic’s Colorado based Vice President of Sales Jack Seitz. “SWAT MAPS technology combined with ServiTech’s deep agronomy heritage will ensure Iowa farmers have the information they need to make important decisions on their farm.”

ServiTech Inc. became a SWAT Partner through the purchase of a patented SWAT BOX, the premium soil mapping system on the market. A SWAT BOX is used to collect the data to create Croptimistic Technology’s high-resolution SWAT MAPS. SWAT MAPS gives farmers a solid foundation to better understand field variability plus practical ways to optimize crop inputs for increased profitability. When combined with local agronomy, these powerful digital tools provide farmers with a more complete and custom assessment of crop needs on their farm.

"Having the ability to offer SWAT MAPS to our farm clients in Iowa is essential,” Rob Swieter, Iowa Territory Leader for ServiTech Inc., says. “SWAT MAPS, in conjunction with our precision agronomy services, is a phenomenal solution that we can now offer to our clients that are looking to fully maximize yields and the ROI on their inputs. Partnering with Croptimistic Technology Inc. allows us to deliver SWAT MAPS and its many benefits to our growing clientele in Iowa. We are very excited to become the newest SWAT MAPS partner.”

About ServiTech Inc.:

ServiTech’s vision is to sustainably create a more productive planet. Since 1975, ServiTech, Inc. has relied on the most current technologies, research, and science to make productive and profitable recommendations for thousands of growers on millions of acres. Three ServiTech laboratory facilities complement industry agronomic services to measure fertility, tailor field inputs, and increase yields.

About Croptimistic Technology Inc.:

Croptimistic Technology Inc. is an international AgTech company that provides SWAT MAPS, a turn-key variable rate process that prioritizes Soil, Water, and Topography factors of fields for the creation of management zones. Their SWAT RECORDS software powers the entire SWAT ecosystem of products, all of which are synced with the app for real-time viewing. Learn more about SWAT products and how you can leverage SWAT MAPS by visiting

For more information, contact:

Rob Swieter

Iowa Territory Leader, Servitech Inc.

Jack Seitz

Vice President of Sales, Croptimistic Technology

Drones in Agriculture: How Can They Be Used with SWAT MAPS?

Drones have received a lot of attention in agriculture, especially since they became affordable mapping tools about eight years ago. Back then, they were projected to transform agriculture. Although hardware, software, and camera technology have improved, many of the challenges faced by drones in 2014 are still evident today. Scalability remains a major hurdle. Widespread beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) & fully autonomous operations have not yet become common, and human operated flight and processing is still prominent in drone applications in agriculture today.

In the early days, much of the focus was placed on using drones to capture imagery for generating normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) and crop health maps. While drones can do this, satellite imagery has improved in terms of frequency and spatial resolution and is a more practical option. A general crop health / biomass / NDVI image can easily be obtained through many ag data management systems for free. Frequency and clouds can still pose issues, but as more earth imaging satellites enter orbit, this issue will soon be resolved. In the case of NDVI and what it is used for, usually it is to gain an understanding of the status of the crop at a certain point in time. Which areas of the field are doing well? Which areas are having issues? Is that green area on the NDVI image just a patch of weeds? Is the red area simply a result of equipment issues?

The image will not tell you what the problem is - it still requires ground truthing.

In some cases, NDVI and other vegetation indices are used to influence in season fertilizer, herbicide, or fungicide prescriptions. For this, though, high resolution drone imagery is not necessary since most equipment cannot yet apply product at that resolution anyway. In most cases, 10m satellite imagery works fine if it is available.

So, which applications make the most sense for drones in agriculture?

Monitoring Agronomic Research Trials:

Trials involving multiple fertilizer treatments, seed spacing, soil amendments, tillage methods and more, have traditionally involved manual, subjective, and laborious means of assessment. Since large field trials can be difficult to manage due to labor issues, small plots are common to compare various treatments. Farmers often dismiss small plot trials as they do not provide a realistic representation of commercial scale agriculture. Small plot trials also make it difficult to compare treatments throughout different soil-based management zones (i.e. SWAT Zones) or microenvironments. It is also difficult to get accurate yield maps from harvesting equipment. Drones can cover larger areas than just small plot research farms and provide detailed information about many characteristics such as chlorophyll content, plant population, plant height, plant size, spacing and more.

Drone images showing potato plants, plant centroids, plant spacing, and canopy cover in a plant spacing trial (Evan MacDonald)

Spot spraying / spot application/ seeding:

Drones have increasingly been used to apply products such as pesticide, herbicides, micronutrients, and seed. Think of a large field where only 5-10% of the field area is too wet (i.e. SWAT Zone 10 depression areas) to drive across with a piece of machinery. A single drone can seed over 20 ac in an hour and is perfectly suited to apply seed in wet spots that are scattered across a field. Likewise, if a micronutrient only needs to be applied to certain areas of a field, such as hilltops, a drone can be a useful applicator compared to larger equipment. As battery technology and payload capacity improve, drone-based applicators will have more uptake. Eventually, it may be common to see drone applied products across a whole field.

Strongfield Environmental Solutions applying clover seed at the CropPro Smart Farm (Strongfield Environmental Solutions)

Soil Conservation

Properly timed drone surveys of a bare soil field can reveal erosion issues and assist soil and water engineers in developing plans to address the problem. The high-resolution imagery provided by the drone easily identifies sheet, rill, and gully erosion. The imagery can also be used to develop accurate digital surface models, and help engineers properly place soil conservation structures, such as grassed waterways and berms to manage surface water flow. SWAT models can be applied to drone-based elevation data assuming it was captured in a field with bare soil or consistent and low residue levels. If topsoil restoration is something the farmer is interested in, a SWAT MAP is a great place to start to understand where soil should be taken from and where it should be placed. Thermal imagery from drones can reveal areas of the field with low moisture holding capacity, providing an indication of deposition of topsoil from further up the hill.

3D model showing erosion issues in a field with soybean stubble (PEI Department of Agriculture and Land)

Scouting… Maybe not?

Drones have been, and still are, used for crop scouting. But they have not replaced traditional crop scouts on a large scale. That is not to say that traditional crop scouting will not be replaced by technology at some point. It is more likely that tractor mounted imaging systems such as SWAT CAM, real time see and spray systems, and robotics will disrupt traditional scouting methods. They remove a step in the process: requiring someone to actually fly a drone. Tractor or vehicle mounted systems work without any human interaction. Drones may provide more flexibility in terms of timing of imagery for scouting, and fully autonomous operations would provide a big boost in the uptake of drones as scouting tools.

SWAT CAM mounted on a spray boom. SWAT CAM captures high resolution images of the crop/weeds/soil as it passes through the field. Machine learning algorithms applied to the images will help inform future agronomic management decisions (Trevor Friesen)

After years of being overhyped and overpromised, drones are finally finding their niche in agriculture and will have a place in the industry for years to come. They do not need to be viewed as a competitor to satellite imagery or soil-based mapping solutions like SWAT MAPS. They can be used in combination with these technologies to advance agronomic decision making and help farmers grow better crops.

SWAT 009: Brad Dunnington on Map Making and the Evolution of SWAT MAPS

In this episode we are joined by (Brad Dunnington) of (Croptimistic Technology). Brad was the first employee when he joined the company in 2008 and is now the SWAT MAPS manager based remotely in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Brad processes raw data from a SWAT BOX into SWAT MAPS for an agronomist to ground truth, and then use for soil sampling. This then becomes a prescription file or controller file for a farmer to apply variable rate products in their field. We explore how data collected in the field becomes a useful map for farmers and agronomists and what it took to develop this product over the years, to what it is today.

“The SWAT MAPS we make now are far superior to what we used to make. It's easier to make SWAT MAPS in certain areas than it is in others. Luckily, we started where we did, because it was a lot easier. Then that helped us develop new techniques for making maps.” - Brad Dunnington SWAT Maps Manager for (Croptimistic Technology)

On Today’s Episode:

2:08 - Meet Brad Dunnington and learn the experiences that led him to working at Croptimistic Technology.

4:06 - Explore the process of taking data from a SWAT BOX and converting it to SWAT MAPS

5:23 - Discover the progression of equipment, technique and technology with soil mapping for SWAT MAPS

8:39 - Learn the pitfalls of mapping prior to smartphone technology and how Brad was able to turn a mistake into a new customer acquisition

9:20 - Hear about the initial software now known as ADMS that Brad started with and continues to use to produce maps for agronomists

10:11 - Discover the benefit of SWAT RECORDS and the process agronomists will use to continue their analysis

11:24 - Explore how agronomists use multiple SWAT MAPS to evaluate the soil quality and determine what approach they should take for their client

12:45 - Brad gives us an example of how SWAT MAPS are used in his area of Eastern Canada

13:44 - Discover the advantages Brad can offer his clients by having extensive experience in agricultural map making

16:04 - Explore the growth and expansion of the company, the techniques and the technology of Croptimistic Technology

Make sure you subscribe to this show on your podcast platform of choice. You’ll find the SWAT Agronomy Podcast on all of them: iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, etc.

If you have a question you want answered on a future episode, send it to us on Twitter using the hashtag ( #SWATAgronomy).

The SWAT Agronomy Podcast is brought to you by ( SWAT MAPS), and hosted by ( Tim Hammerich).

Get More Out of Soil Sampling with SWAT MAPS

Composite soil sampling has been a very common and inexpensive way to get an idea of nutrients and soil properties in a field. While they are helpful and insightful as to the general characteristics of soils, it can be difficult to delineate any problem or underperforming areas in a field. Each nutrient behaves differently depending on soil type, water flow and topography – features which are captured in high resolution with SWAT MAPS!

Figure 1. General depiction of SWAT zones

Looking at one field that was SWAT Mapped this fall demonstrated just this. A past composite sample showed no soil or fertility related issues. P levels were healthy at 25ppm, and K levels were good at 176ppm. CEC averaged at 12.8 and pH was at 5.8, an acidic but not damaging level. Once SWAT Mapped, we found elevated P levels in Zones 1 and 2 at 46ppm, indicating these areas haven’t been producing for a while. N levels here were up to 45lbs which would be amplified by the dry year we had in 2021. CEC was as low as 9.3, with an organic matter of 2.2, and K was far below the critical level at 117ppm. pH in these sandier zones sat at an alarming 4.8. Zones 9 and 10 revealed a CEC of 27.3, K levels at 171ppm and phosphate levels at 23ppm. In zones 5 and 6, P levels were the lowest at 11ppm, indicating these have been productive areas and will likely respond to extra fertilizer if applied here. Each of these areas will respond very differently to applied fertilizer.

Figure 2. Soil sample results

In this same field, the composite soil sampled revealed a decent copper level of 0.7ppm. In the SWAT Mapped sample, zones 5 and 6 (Which previously mentioned were likely the highest producing areas) were low at 0.4ppm. What if you could apply a nutrient as expensive as copper to only 30% of the field that is much more likely to respond to it? It would become much more economical.

Figure 3. Cores in each sampling zone

Often fields are under producing with no obvious signs as to why. Each nutrient behaves differently in plants and soils and it becomes critical to understand where they might be lacking in order to properly manage them. For example, phosphorus is extremely chemically reactive and is an important nutrient element limiting crop production in most regions of the world after nitrogen (Australian Journal of Soil Research). Higher phosphate levels often remain in under producing areas -the phosphate here simply doesn’t get utilized, so why keep applying more? CEC is an indicator of a soils ability to retain cations such as potassium, calcium and magnesium (Soil Test Interpretation Guide) and often correlate, such as in this example.

When we are able to delineate different areas of the field, there is a lot to learn about current crop response. Composite soil samples will give you an average of all areas while SWAT MAPS can break out soil- based management zones and help to understand and enhance your field management.


Holford, I. C. R. "Soil phosphorus: its measurement, and its uptake by plants." Soil Research 35.2 (1997): 227-240.

Horneck, Donald Arthur, et al. Soil Test Interpretation Guide. : [Corvallis, Or.] : Oregon State University, Extension Service, 2011

SWAT 008: Jonathan Freeman on Precision Soil Moisture Maps

Jonathan Freeman introduces us to (SWAT WATER) and the significance of this tool - especially in irrigated agriculture. Before joining (Croptimistic), Jonathan worked as an inhouse agronomist for a large sugar company where he also managed their precision ag program. He has nearly two decades of experience in water resource management, and has worked in multiple countries in southern Africa as well as New Zealand and Australia. We will explore the ins and outs of irrigated agriculture including some specialty crops like sugar, avocados, and macadamia nuts. Irrigation goes beyond just moisture monument Irrigation contributes greatly to nutrient movement and ultimately a crops success

“I think the consensus at the end of the day is that your soil moisture level, and also how that soil moisture interacts with your various soil types and soil conditions is really what is driving, your crop productivity. ...So that really was the segue from SWAT MAPS to then include SWAT WATER as a measure of saying how much water is available.” - Jonathan Freeman, precision agronomist and soil water specialist with (Croptimistic Technology)

On Today’s Episode:

2:16 - Discover the variation between the agriculture industry in Southern Africa versus North America

4:06 - Explore the origin of SWAT WATER and how Jonathan was introduced to and eventually joined SWAT MAPS

5:40 - Learn about SWAT WATER's process and capabilities

7:13 - Jonathan explains the value in adding soil texture data and organic matter data to soil sampling analysis

8:36 - Discover the practical application and impact of SWAT WATER for producers

12:44 - Learn about the irrigation management options SWAT WATER offers

14:20 - Understand the significance of water management as being closely tied to nutrient management

18:50 - Explore the different inputs and how they can be tailored to the soils needs based on water movement

20:56 - Jonathan shares the frequently asked questions in regards to SWAT WATER and maximizing its benefits

22:57 - Learn how the data acquired from SWAT WATER can help in irrigation design

26:38 - Understand how introducing mapping to an operation can focus on the individual concerns of that operation and allow for more efficient production (SWAT WATER Global Launch Video)

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If you have a question you want answered on a future episode, send it to us on Twitter using the hashtag ( #SWATAgronomy).

The SWAT Agronomy Podcast is brought to you by ( SWAT MAPS), and hosted by ( Tim Hammerich).