|Main authors:||Luuk Fleskens, Coen Ritsema, Zhanguo Bai, Violette Geissen, Xiaomei Yang, Jorge Mendes de Jesus|
|Source document:||Fleskens, L. et al. (2017) Pilot soil quality assessment tool. iSQAPER Project Deliverable 4.1 27 pp|
|1. Review of existing soil quality apps|
|2. Categorisation of existing soil quality apps|
1. Review of existing soil quality apps
Soil is suffering from intensive farming and unsustainable soil disturbance, leading to severe soil degradation. Great efforts have been undertaken to deal with soil degradation and related problems via research demonstration, agricultural extension services and policy incentives and guidance programs. However, it remains difficult for end-users, like farmers and agricultural workers, to understand soil information which is shown in reports or research publications. Furthermore, access to such information in the first place is also an important barrier to improved soil management. Both barriers can be overcome through the development of easy-to-use interactive tools, such as mobile phone apps.
This opportunity has been acknowledged by several actors, and a range of soil-related mobile/ipad apps have been developed. Here we review a number of such apps. The review was conducted through searching on keywords in the Google Play Store and Apple Appstore, and through looking up the apps developed as part of other (research) initiatives that we had learned about through other means. The list is not intended to be exhaustive in terms of the number of existing soil apps, but did attempt to capture the full range of functionalities currently available in soil-related apps. We excluded a number of apps that are focused on offering sampling schemes for soil sample collections and the classification of soils based on (lab-based) soil texture analysis, as these apps do not provide soil information to the user.
When reviewing the existing apps (Table 1) we found quite a range of apps focussing on providing access to soil information, such as SOILINFO (ISRIC, global), mySoil (British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology & Met office, UK), SoilWeb (Soil Resource Lab, USA), CarbonToSoil (CarbonToSoil, Finland), SoilMapp (CSIRO, Australia), Soilscapes (Cranfield University, UK), SOCit and SIFSS (James Hutton Institute, Scotland), LandPKS (USDA-ARS, global), Soil Test Pro (USA) and the SoilCares Soil Scanner (SoilCares). These available apps provide soil information either at the global scale (SOILINFO) or at a region scale (mySOIL, SoilMapp, Soilscapes and SIFSS), and either focus on a range of soil properties or on single soil property (CarbonToSoil and SOCit). In Table 1 we show a brief description of each app, and list the platforms on which they are available (Apple, Android), the issuing organization, scale and price (whether free or charging fees).
Table 1. Overview of existing soil quality apps.
|SOILINFO||Apple, Android||ISRIC||SoilInfo provides free access to soil data across borders. Available layers: soil organic carbon (g kg-1), soil pH (-), texture fractions (%), bulk density (kg m-3), cation-exchange capacity (cmol kg-1) of the fine earth fraction, coarse fragments (%), FAO World Reference Base soil classes, and USDA Soil Taxonomy suborders.||World||free|
|mySoil||Apple, Android||British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, EU JRC, Met office||mySoil gives you access to a comprehensive European soil properties map within a single app. Discover what lies beneath your feet and help us to build a community dataset by submitting your own soil information. Discover the latest soil mapping data from across Europe. More detailed data is available for UK.||EU + UK||free|
|SoilWeb||Apple||Soil Resource Lab, UCDavis||GPS based, real-time access to USDA-NRCS soil survey data, formatted for the iPhone. This application retrieves graphical summaries of soil types associated with the iPhone's current geographic location, based on a user defined horizontal precision. Sketches of soil profiles are linked to their official soil series description (OSD) page. Soil series names are linked to their associated page within the CA Soil Resource Lab's online soil survey, SoilWeb.||USA||free|
|CarbonToSoil||Apple, Android||CarbonToSoil||The total amount of carbon on Earth is constant but for a balanced and healthy nature it is currently in the wrong form: as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. In the CarbonToSoil mobile app consumers get to participate in agriculture where regenerative farming is used to draw carbon from the atmosphere into the soil more efficiently than before. Through the app anyone can support farms to change their agricultural methods to regenerative farming. The app also allows the user to personally participate in food production and to see how food is grown.||Finland (can be scaled up)||free|
|SoilMapp||Apple (only for iPad)||CSIRO||SoilMapp is designed to make soil information more accessible to help Australian farmers, consultants, planners, natural resource managers, researchers and people interested in soil. SoilMapp for iPad provides direct access to best national soil data and information from the Australian Soil Resource Information System (ASRIS) and ApSoil, the database behind the agricultural computer model: APSIM.||Australia||free|
|Soilscapes||Apple||Cranfield University||The Soilscapes App is an easy-to-use soil reporting tool which produces summary soils information for a specific location, based upon the “Soilscapes” soil thematic dataset. The Soilscapes map used is a 1:250,000 scale, simplified soils dataset covering England and Wales.||England and Wales||free|
|SoilCares Soil Scanner||Android||SoilCares||The Soil Scanner will determine the amount of Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium and determine the pH, cation exchange capacity, soil temperature and the organic matter level. The Soil Scanner will provide you with a list of crops suitable for your soil. You will also receive hands-on lime and fertiliser recommendations alternatives that are available in your country. This App allows you as the user of the SoilCares Soil Scanner to connect yourself to the database and obtain your results instantly via the internet.||Scanner available in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Ivory Coast, Poland, Ukraine, Hungary, and the Netherlands||annual license fee; needs a separate Soil Scanner device|
|SOCit (Soil Organic Carbon information)||Apple||James Hutton Institute||The free app is aimed at farmers, land managers and other land users who want to know how much carbon is in their soil, helping them determine fertility and appropriate use. The app uses information about the user’s position to access existing digital maps of environmental characteristics, such as elevation, climate and geology. Combining this information with data extracted automatically from a photograph of the soil of interest, it uses a sophisticated model to predict topsoil organic matter and carbon content.||Scotland||free|
|Soil Information For Scottish Soils (SIFSS)||Apple||James Hutton Institute||SIFSS (Soil Indicators for Scottish Soils) is an app that allows you to find out what soil type is in your area, to explore the characteristics of around 600 different Scottish soils, to discover the differences in soil characteristics between cultivated and uncultivated soils and to examine a range of key indicators of soil quality. You can also use the app to view all of our published soil mapping, plus a selection of our thematic maps, including the popular Land Capability for Agriculture. SIFSS is the only app that gives you access to the Soil Survey of Scotland. This information includes pH, soil carbon, N, P, K etc. directly from the James Hutton Institute database.||Scotland||free|
|LandPKS||Apple, Android||USDA-ARS, USAID||The LandPKS app helps users make more sustainable land management decisions allowing them to collect geo-located data about their soils, vegetation, and site characteristics; and providing useful results and information about their site. It also provides free cloud storage and sharing, which means that you and others can access your data from any computer from our Data Portal at portal.landpotential.org. The LandPKS app walks the user through how to hand texture their soil, as well as document other important site characteristics. The amount of water the soil can store for plants and water infiltration rate for the soil is then directly calculated on the phone. In addition, users receive an outline of their soil texture by depth, which is important for making decisions on agricultural land. A LandPKS Soil Health Module has been announced but is not yet available. The Soil Health module will be a nice complement to the LandInfo module that is currently available on the LandPKS app. LandInfo measures relatively static soil properties, including texture and rock fragment volume by depth. In contrast, Soil Health measures more of the dynamic soil properties that are important for productivity.||Global; pilot sites Kenya, Namibia, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda, and Nepal||Free|
|SOILapp||Android||Capsella H2020 project||SOILapp allows you to collect, visualize and share observations of soil quality using spade-test method. The spade-test is a widely used, qualitative method for performing the observation of soil conditions. It gives the observer information on soil fertility and on mechanical operations effects on its structure. By using the application for recording for soil observations, you are able to share your findings, learn from other users and seek further advice to the users' community. SOILapp guides you through an easy touch-enabled interface to define features for different layers in a soil sample. At the end, summary features of the observation are given and shared, eventually adding comments and a short description of farm practices.||Global (generic guidance for spade test)||free|
|Soil Test Pro||Apple, Android||Soil Test Pro||Use Soil Test Pro to order soil sampling supplies, pull precision soil samples, choose a lab from our recommended list, and ship your samples. Our Precision Ag Specialists will notify you when your lab results have been posted to your Soil Test Pro Web Headquarters, usually in 3-5 days. In addition, we will be glad to work with you to create recommendations, prescription maps and controller files. Just give us a call.||USA||free but test to be paid|
|国家土壤信息平台 (National Soil Information Platform)||Apple, Android||ISS||soil map 1:4,000,000 and 1:6,000,000; 2nd round soil survey information; CERN long-term monitoring data and city map||China (Chinese)||free|
2. Categorisation of existing soil quality apps
Subsequently, a further analysis was made of the type of information each of the existing apps provides, and for what purpose. We structured the existing apps in 7 categories (Table 2):
Table 2. Categorisation of existing soil apps
|Apps providing the user with access to soil data||These apps mainly focus on giving the user easy access to existing soil data, whether at global or regional level. Communication in these apps is one-directional (information provision only), and the focus is on soil data itself, not on management advice.|
|Apps building interactive soil datasets||The mySoil app provides access to soil data, but also explicitly aims at validating such data by users to create better soil data (‘citizen science’).|
|Apps informing the user about relative soil quality scores||The SIFSS (Soil Information for Scottish Soils) app of the James Hutton Institute not only gives the user an indication on soil indicator scores, but also whether such scores are relatively high or low for particular soil types. The user can also enter their own soil indicator data. Moreover, (relative) scores can be shown for cultivated or semi-natural soils. There is no clear link to management advice, although it is stated that is important to maintain properties such as pH, carbon content, loss on ignition and calcium content, which all affect plant growth, at optimum levels.|
|Apps providing management advice on a single soil quality aspect||SOCit provides advice on how to increase soil carbon sequestration. Soil organic carbon content (SOC) is an important indicator of soil quality, but overall the scope of an app focussing solely on SOC is rather narrow when considering soil quality.|
|Apps facilitating data collection for commercial (soil) management advice||These apps facilitate the link to providing commercial soil management advice, either through managing the process of soil sampling and processing of laboratory analyses (Soil test pro) or through the use of a device (Soilcares Soil Scanner) that can take readings in-situ of which the results are analysed using an online database outputting tailored management advice. While there are more examples of the first type of app, they are not free to use and merely streamline soil information provision based on soil sampling. The Soil Scanner is an innovative soil information collection system, but has as a drawback that it needs upfront investment in the device and subscription to an annual licence fee to get advice.|
|Apps guiding the user through self-assessment of soil quality||The Capsella SoilApp and LandPKS are intended to guide users through a self-assessment of soil quality (on quite different grounds, a spade-test and a landscape assessment respectively). Both apps allow users to share and learn from other users submitting their assessments. While some information is partially prefilled, the apps are not providing users with an instant answer to their questions but provide guidance instead.|
|Apps establishing cross-stakeholder collaboration for soil improvement||The CarbonToSoil app offers brokering capabilities in addition to soil information: the idea here is to bring together farmers that are willing to manage their soil more sustainably, and users willing to contribute payment to support that|
Overall, when looking at the existing soil apps, they mainly are intended to provide information about the soil. There is limited focus on providing management advice on improving soil quality, and if such focus exists, it is either narrowly focused on particular aspects of soil quality (SOC), or requires payment of a fee. Moreover, none of the reviewed apps explicitly considers soil threats and management advice on how to mitigate them.
Thus, our aim in iSQAPER to develop a mobile app, Soil Quality Assessment Application (SQAPP), by integrating existing soil quality data consisting of a range of physical, chemical and biological soil quality indicators and associated soil threats is found to go beyond functionalities currently offered by existing soil apps. Moreover, based on the information of soil indicators and soil threats, SQAPP will provide recommendations on how to improve soil indicators and combat soil threats.