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Portable neutron probe installation

soil till measurements
Nathan Linder (Left), of Lethbridge College’s Irrigation Sciences team, and Gurbir Dhillon (Right), of Farming Smarter, examine the neutron probe before beginning measurement tests

Moisture is an important choice in a soil till method.

Because till methods lead to vastly different moisture and temperature levels, it can be difficult to know which method is best for your crop. The advantage of no-tilling means your soil will have more moisture, at the cost of a lower temperature. The inverse is true for full tilling, with strip tilling in the middle. 

Choosing a wrong till method can dramatically affect the emergence of your canola crop and the yield of your harvest. Canola already has a 50% emergence rate, so getting it wrong can cost you greatly. 

Tuesday, the project looking at the effect of strip tillage and precision planting on canola emergence, seed yield and quality, saw a big development as tubes to monitor the soil were installed with the help of the Irrigation Sciences team at Lethbridge College. These tubes monitor the temperature and moisture level at the seeding sites. 

These tubes will allow the Lethbridge College Irrigation Sciences team to collect the data from the seeding sites.
This data will help the project team determine the effectiveness of strip tilling and precision planting research efforts.  

“Every two weeks, the neutron probe will get the moisture level and temperature of the soil and let us see how each of the tilling methods will effect the soil,” said Carlo Van Herk, Lethbridge College Research Technician and project lead. 

How it works

The probe uses a pellet containing americium-241, a radioactive element, and beryllium. It emits alpha particles that decay and release fast neutrons. These fast neutrons then collide with hydrogen present in the soil and lose their energy. The probe detects this slowed neutron,  allowing an estimation of hydrogen present, which allows a soil moisture measurement to occur. 

The strip tillage and precision planting project plans to repeat this process for each year of the three-year study. The goal of this research is to determine the best choice of till method for both irrigated and dry land farms, to optimize your canola emergence, seed yield and quality. 

The strip tillage and precision planting on canola emergence, seed yield and quality project is a three-year study. It’s led by Carlo Van Herk and supported by Gurbir Dhillon. You can read more about it at:  

Contact Gurbir Dhillon with questions regarding this project.