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Researchers develop low-cost nitrogen sensors

Researchers are close to giving farmers a tool to monitor real-time soil nitrogen levels.

Kwan-Yu Chen is developing a low-cost nitrogen sensor that can measure what is in the soil without having to conduct labor-intensive soil samples that only produce a single snapshot of the nitrogen when the sample was collected.  Chen tells Brownfield the sensor product he is working on can take many separate field measurements at different times. “It can provide continuous data. The sensor will sit inside a (central point) on the farm and keep recording the nitrogen, nitrate readings from the soils. When we want to harvest it, we just go there to pick up the SD card to plug into the computer.”

Chen says the sensors are printed electronic circuits on a sticker, which makes them easy and economical to produce at large scale. 

For now, the sensors must have data collected from SD cards, but Chen says another feature may be coming soon. “People might be interested in the wireless communications method so they can sit at their home and then they can connect to the sensor in the field.”

Chen says the sensors can read nitrogen levels in soil and in water, so they could be useful for fertilizer management and for monitoring water quality.  He’s not sure when the sensors will be ready for commercial production and sales.

Chen’s research at the University of Wisconsin is supported by Wisconsin’s Dairy Innovation Hub, a state-funded research program through the University of Wisconsin at Madison, Platteville, and River Falls.

Audio: Kwan-Yu Chen discusses his nitrogen sensor research with Brownfield’s Larry Lee

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