SMIS: Data-driven soil coalition

The Soil management Information System (SMIS) applies big data approaches to provide best practice guidelines for sustainable soil management. SMIS collates and integrates soil management data and is part of the GREATsoils program.

What is SMIS?

The volume of independent soil datasets continues to amass at an ever-increasing pace and complexity. However, there is currently a lack of one coherent dataset. SMIS aims to connect these abundances of scattered datasets, making them flow into one robust soil data warehouse.

SMIS is a prototype web-based tool that draws together farmer and grower data, experimental data and literature. SMIS analyses this data and provides land managers and advisors with evidence-based information on soil management.

By amassing the data into one uniform datasets SMIS will harness all the collective knowledge and understanding. The system analyses this data and provides scientific evidence-based information on soil management.

This unprecedented pool of knowledge can be used to decipher soil management options and their impacts in different field scenarios. The integration of datasets provides more robust soil management advice and guidance, which in turn can improve marketable crop yields and avoid soil degradation cost. It will also allow the identification of the differences between productive and unproductive sites. The integration of such wide-ranging data formats and sources makes SMIS unique, as such a holistic approach has never been attempted.

How can I access SMIS?

SMIS can be accessed using Google Chrome at http://smis.ahdb.org.uk. It was developed by Cranfield University and the Processors and Growers Research Organisation with funding from AHDB.

Where can I get help?

Further information on the development of SMIS can be found in the Final Report and associated Appendices. The End User Manual (Appendix 1) has been written for fland managers and advisors to demonstrate how SMIS can be used to answer a wide range of soil management questions.

Further information on the development of SMIS can be found in the Final Report and associated Appendices. The End User Manual (Appendix 1) has been written for fland managers and advisors to demonstrate how SMIS can be used to answer a wide range of soil management questions.

Further information:

Further information on the development of SMIS can be found in the Final Report and associated Appendices. The End User Manual (Appendix 1) has been written for fland managers and advisors to demonstrate how SMIS can be used to answer a wide range of soil management questions.

Data flow system

For the first time information on soil, management will be available as one universal centralised resource. The SMIS database includes data on 80 different crop types, grown across Great Britain between 2005 and 2017.

SMIS creates powerful statistical models to analyse patterns in the data. This can unearth hidden information on the factors affecting soils which impact crop yields, soil compaction, and field vegetable diseases prevalence. The more data flowing into SMIS’s the more powerful its predictive properties. The data requires innovative novel analytical approaches to pick out patterns that provide a more scientific basis for guidance on a wide range of sustainable soil management issues.

Currently, the SMIS data warehouse consists of 380,000 data entries, the system is currently in its prototype stage.

Incorporation of non-analytical data into SMIS, such as expert or grower experiences can also aid in the identification of the best practices for the given scenario. Written material ranging from trade articles to technical reports to internationally published scientific papers have been reviewed and summarised, providing supportive evidence to SMIS as well as a helpful summary of existing information.

A paramount focus of the project has been the collation of data, information, and knowledge on soil management from a wide range of sources.

Examples being:

  • Farmer and grower data held in Gatekeeper farm management software
  • Met office data
  • LandIS Soil Series data
  • AHDB Horticulture funded projects
  • Expert knowledge from researchers and growers
  • Extensive literature review (both scientific papers, research reports, and ‘grey’ articles)

Benefits for growers?

The outputs of the project will be of direct benefit to the industry as:

  1. For the first time, information on soil management advice and guidance will be available as one centralised resource.
  2. SMIS outputs will provide advice on improving soil health.
  3. SMIS outputs will provide advice on avoiding soil degradation and associated costs.

DEFRA estimates of the impacts of soil degradation on agricultural production is between are £206-315 million per year. SMIS will provide evidence-based guidance on ways to reduce this.

Direct costs to individuals may include reseeding operations, subsoiling to reduce compaction, leveling land subject to erosion, fines incurred due to breaches of the Water Framework Directive (eroded soil in watercourses) or from the Highways Agency (mud on roads), additions of organic amendments, and poor yields. Indirect costs include the loss of customer confidence due to the difficulty of delivering to time and specification, and this can have a significant longer-term impact on income.

 

Crop

Yield Increase due to better soil health

 

Financial benefits to growers

Wheat

Up to and over 10%

10% increase in yield would result in 1.2 t/ha increase @ £130/t

Potatoes

5%

Based on 15,000t produced = 750t extra – contract price £165 /t = £123,750 income

Maize

5%

Improved yield means less land required. If 40 ha of land under maize @ growing cost per ha of £1550k = saving of £65,000. The 40 ha could be put to wheat = 528 tonnes = £68k income

Lettuce

1.5%

Improved yields mean 1.5 million fewer heads per yr needed = 15 ha less land @ growing cost per ha of £8k = saving of £120,000

Onions

2.5%

based on 5000t produced = 125t extra yield – contract price £190 per ton = £23,750 income

Table 1: Well-managed soils have lower input requirements giving better financial margins in the short term, and better soil health in the long term (2015 prices)

What next?

To reap the benefits of improved soil management, continuous data flow into the SMIS data warehouse is key. As the database expands, SMIS’s explanatory and predictive power increases.

AHDB is interested in developing the SMIS prototype further, if you would like to form a partnership or have any comments on the system please contact James Holmes at james.holmes@ahdb.org.uk.

Growers are instrumental for the flow of knowledge?

Growers’ data is essential because it brings an understanding of the timing, type, and frequency of farm operations in a rotational context, including those that can lead to soil degradation, and provide an evidence base for those practices that promote sustainable soil management.

Most importantly, anyone who agrees to share their data through SMIS can be confident that it will be fully anonymised.

The ability to interpret the database will be strengthened over time, as new and more sophisticated statistical and data-mining techniques emerge and SMIS will continue to unearth valuable insights from large datasets that would otherwise have remained hidden.