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New Tool for Measuring Soil Organic Matter

Accurate assessment of soil properties can help scientists manage the long-term sustainability of soils. However, this often involves time-consuming and expensive analyses. Scientists from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) are demonstrating that visible near infrared reflectance spectroscopy (VNIRS) can be used to quickly measure key soil properties and quality in a cost-efficient manner.

When the light is directed towards the sample, the resulting reflectance spectrum produces a characteristic shape that can be used for analytical purposes. Traditionally used to analyze plant and grain samples, AAFC scientists are now using it to predict a wide range of soil properties, including soil texture and mineral contents.

Having access to diverse soil samples from across Canada has enabled AAFC scientists to create VNIRS models to predict multiple soil properties. These include total nitrogen and soil organic carbon - some of the most widely recommended indicators of soil organic matter quality. However, changes in these indicators often occur slowly over years and decades, and may not provide enough information on important short-term changes. Therefore, scientists have now also developed VNIRS models to measure more short-term management-induced changes in soil quality.

AAFC scientists were the first worldwide network to propose a VNIRS model to predict light fraction organic matter nitrogen and also developed models to predict soil nitrogen supply.

Armed with this new tool, scientists are better equipped to measure various soil properties to assess and maintain this valuable natural resource.

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