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An IIT Kharagpur research team has created a database of some 1,700 soil samples collected from across Odisha, West Bengal, Karnataka and Rajasthan to have sufficient variations and different properties.
"We created new algorithms (computer programmes) to relate soil reflectance and individual soil properties. Through our research, we showed that multiple soil properties including those which do not directly influence soil reflectance may also be estimated in this approach - all in a few minutes," Prof. Bhabani Sankar Das of Agricultural and Food Engineering at IIT Kharagpur said.
Reflectance is the measure of the proportion of light or other radiation striking a surface which is reflected off it.
The research has led to the creation of an Indian soil spectral library and Indian computer programmes for estimating soil properties, he said.
While over-use of fertiliser remains a burning issue since the green revolution, recommendations for using the right amount and type of fertiliser can only be made on testing soil samples at a large scale.
Das said since India has over 137 million landholdings, testing of soil samples from such large number of landholding through conventional approaches is a daunting task.
The spectroscopy-based soil testing method is fast and may serve as an alternative to traditional soil testing methods, he said.
The technology does not require any chemical agents either. It will enable a lab to analyse a sample for a dozen of properties in less than few minutes, he explained.
This also means a soil testing lab can handle more than 30,000 samples a year as compared to just 3,000-5,000 which is being done currently, thus bringing down the overall cost.
"This has a huge implication for the Indian farmers who can now avail the benefits of this technology and get their soil samples tested at a much-accelerated pace. Through this technology development, we have offered the farmers of this country, preparedness for soil spectroscopy for rapid soil sensing," Prof Das added.