With all the various challenges we are facing as a planet, such as an increasing population, climate change and scarcity of water and land, we will need all the tools we can get to mitigate some of those challenges. Better seeds is key but also a good quality soil is crucial in securing a good harvest. Increased awareness about the importance of soil quality and acting upon it, will ultimately lead to increased yields. Time to take a closer look at how soil quality is tested and how it can be done at a minimum of costs.
European Seed (ES): Can you tell us a bit more about your company SoilCares. Why was it created, and what does it do?
SoilCares (SC): Bringing knowledge, that until now could only be obtained from agricultural laboratories, into the hands of farmers worldwide, is the reason why SoilCares was founded in 2013. As we have experienced in the Netherlands, knowledge is key to increase yields, and enhance production to levels that are sufficient to feed the growing world population. As a spinoff of one of the oldest and most renowned agricultural laboratories in the Netherlands, SoilCares is a young enterprise, but with decades of experience. Although we are still a young company and our products are also very recently on the market in most countries I am happy to report that in an independent trial performed by Research Secured Growth in Burundi, double yields were achieved after applying SoilCares recommendations.
ES: Your company provides continuous access to up-to-date practical information about their crops and soils to farmers. How do you go about it? What services do you provide?
SC: Our company has set up services to optimize yields using very affordable smart sensors and intelligent in-house developed databases. To that end, we developed a complete and very compact lab using sensor technology to analyse macro- and micro elements in the soil; the Lab-in-a-Box. The latest and most innovative development of our company is the SoilCares Scanner. This scanner provides real time, in the field measurements of pH and the main nutrients in the soil and gives practical fertilizer recommendations via an App on your smartphone. With the use of SoilCares Scanner, even a small scale farmer in Kenya will know how to increase yields by applying the right fertilizer. We are happy to report that the Rabobank Foundation is our launching customer for the SoilCares Scanner in Kenya, where they have bought the first 200 scanners.
ES: Why is it important for a farmer to analyse his soil? And does each farmer get the same treatment?
SC: Up to 60 per cent of crop yields depends on soil fertility. Needless to say that knowing what is in your soil is extremely important to optimize your yields and to understand what fertilisers need to be added. We have solutions for small scale farmers in developing countries but also for very large farmers in emerging countries and high-end farmers in countries like the Netherlands.
ES: Can seed companies also benefit from your services? And why it is important for seed companies to have such information? How could it help them in their business?
SC: Quality of soil is also very important for seed companies, just as quality of seeds is very important for every farmer, next to soil fertility. Without the right nutrients in the soil even the best seeds cannot grow into healthy crops. Seed companies can for example use our services as an additional service to their clients/farmers, leading to satisfied customers. Because all the soil data measured with SoilCares tools are sent digitally to the owner of the Lab-in-a-Box/Scanners, they will have access to soil data of their farmers, providing them with further insights. Therefore, we like to advise seed companies who wish to make sure that their variety trials are as homogeneous as possible, to always measure their soils!
ES: Much of your work is focused on developing countries. Can EU farmers and seed companies also benefit from your work?
SC: Yes, farmers worldwide can benefit from our services; the only thing that is holding us back at this point is the development of our Global Soil Database. SoilCares Scanners and Lab-in-a-Box only work in regions where we have calibrated the soil. We have gathered over 10,000 soil samples from different countries, but have not covered the whole EU yet. In the Netherlands, Poland and Denmark we are ready or almost ready. In the Netherlands farmers can use our Lab-in-a-Box services via our partner HLB, providing them with services ranging from data only until customised biological and chemical soil recommendations. The Scanner in The Netherlands is merely used as a monitoring tool, to measure directly on the spot and during the growing season.
ES: Do you face any barriers in your work, e.g. regulatory barriers, and what is needed to overcome such barriers?
SC: What we do is very new and game changing, using spectral analyses and a calibration database with wet chemistry analyses, so you can really measure in the field and real time at low costs. All regulations and everything farmers are used to, is based on wet chemistry analysis, so building trust in this new technology is a challenge for us. Furthermore, SoilCares is a small company and we can never reach the millions of farmers we want to reach on our own. We are therefore mainly looking for partners who have extensive networks of farmers and who are trusted by those farmers.