FAMOSOS - Farm Monitoring via real-time Soil Sensing

Coordinator: Iris Vogeler Christian-Albrechts
UTAD/CITAB Coordinator: Henrique Manuel da Fonseca Trindade

 Improved farm management practices is hindered by the lack of technologies for real-time in-situ measurements of soil functioning indicators, including nutrient provision for plants. In this project, we will develop a measurement system, which will provide real-time soil data, including nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), moisture, temperature, pH and dissolved oxygen. With the development of the real-time monitoring system we will address on-going challenges in soil monitoring, which is typically laboratory based, costly and time consuming. Real-time data, using a simple, accurate and efficient sensor system will enable processbased understanding of carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus cycling, and provide valuable data for use in process-orientated models. A miniaturised sensor system for obtaining soil water samples and in-situ processing will be developed. The system will consist of a porous ceramic probe, combined with a micro pump, a sensor, and an antenna for wireless data transmission. The sensor will consist of gold and platinum nanowires with different electrodeposited over-layers, permitting selective and multiplexed detection of different analytes (N, P, dissolved oxygen, pH). The use of ultra-small nano-electrodes for soil nutrients monitoring offers many advantages, including shorter response times, increased sensitivity and greatly reduced sample volumes. To ensure efficient and reliable data collection, a wireless underground sensor network will be used, in which buried wireless sensors communicate to each other or with nodes located aboveground. A wireless interface based on one or more of the existing communication standard with a dedicated aboveground receiving device equipped with a reconfigurable antenna and a processing unit will be developed. The system will first be tested under controlled conditions incubation and mesocom experiments and used to estimate microbial nitrogen transformation rates during ‘hot moments (fertilisation, rewetting). The result will be used to define minimum threshold concentrations below which fertilisers should be applied for optimal plant growth, and maximum threshold concentrations above which fertilisers should not be applied to avoid losses. Such information is valuable for both farmers and policy makers to ensure high productivity and economic returns, while minimizing environmental impacts.The systems will then be tested in Germany, Portugal, and Finland to span a range of different climates, soils, and agricultural systems. The collected data will firstly be used for testing and refining the biophysical Agricultural Production System Simulator (APSIM) regarding the prediction of carbon and N cycling, and then be used to evaluate the efficacy of the identified N threshold concentrations compared with common fertilisation practices on production and environmental impacts. The benefits of using real-time data for decision making will be demonstrated at stakeholder workshops with the aim to make a step change towards climate-resilient and sustainable agricultural systems which optimize production while creating desired environmental outcomes, including the reduction of nutrient losses and GHG emissions, and the preservation of biodiversity. The project will bring together a highly experienced team, with expertise in soil physics and biophysical modelling, soil microbiology, farm management, and information and communication technologies (ICT), including sensors and wireless data transfer.

Project Details



Start date

May 2023


24 months

Funding Entity


CITAB/UTAD Financing


Responsible institution

Universität Hermann-Rodewald