Soil macronutrient sensing for precision agriculture

J Environ Monit. 2009 Oct;11(10):1810-24. doi: 10.1039/b906634a. Epub 2009 Aug 13.


Accurate measurements of soil macronutrients (i.e., nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) are needed for efficient agricultural production, including site-specific crop management (SSCM), where fertilizer nutrient application rates are adjusted spatially based on local requirements. Rapid, non-destructive quantification of soil properties, including nutrient levels, has been possible with optical diffuse reflectance sensing. Another approach, electrochemical sensing based on ion-selective electrodes or ion-selective field effect transistors, has been recognized as useful in real-time analysis because of its simplicity, portability, rapid response, and ability to directly measure the analyte with a wide range of sensitivity. Current sensor developments and related technologies that are applicable to the measurement of soil macronutrients for SSCM are comprehensively reviewed. Examples of optical and electrochemical sensors applied in soil analyses are given, while advantages and obstacles to their adoption are discussed. It is proposed that on-the-go vehicle-based sensing systems have potential for efficiently and rapidly characterizing variability of soil macronutrients within a field.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture / instrumentation
  • Agriculture / methods*
  • Environmental Monitoring / instrumentation
  • Environmental Monitoring / methods*
  • Fertilizers / analysis*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Soil / analysis*


  • Fertilizers
  • Soil