Six things you should know before using our solutions in your country

The strength of our technology lies in our in-house developed calibration database. Do you wonder what that calibration database consists of and how we create it? Do you know in which countries we are active and want to know when we can be in yours? Check our latest article to find out!

1) Why do we need a calibration database?

The Scanner and Lab-in-a-Box developed by SoilCares (now part of AgroCares) rely on x-ray, near- and mid-infrared sensors and a connection to SoilCares Global Soil Database to predict soil properties such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium content, organic matter and pH level. This calibration database is required to ensure the accuracy of the soil testing results.

2) What is a calibration database?  

When we set foot in a new country our agronomists determine the number and location of soil samples we need to collect to “calibrate” this country. This means we need to collect enough soil samples to cover the full spectral range of the soils within that specific country or area. The samples are collected by local people specifically trained for the task by SoilCares (now part of AgroCares). These samples are then shipped to our head office in Wageningen (the Netherlands) and added to the database. Each sample is analysed first, using traditional wet chemistry techniques in our Golden Standard Laboratory and then using the spectrometers of our solutions. The spectral and analytical data obtained from both techniques are then used to build the regression models. These models will predict the soil properties of the samples tested with SoilCares equipment. We need this extensive calibration database to make sure our tools work properly and accurately. As the database grows, so does our capability to accurately predict soil properties.

3) How many samples does SoilCares take per country?

Calibrating a country can easily take 400 to 1500 soil samples depending on a wide range of factors such as the soil variability in the country, the size of the country and whether it is located nearby countries where we already have developed a soil database. For example, even though Tanzania is bigger than Kenya, developing the calibration database there was easier. This is because fewer samples were required because SoilCares database was already available for Kenya where soils are similar.

Currently SoilCares Global Soil Database contains about 14.000 soil samples from more than 15 countries and is constantly growing. Our soil scientists believe that when we have collected 30.000 soil samples we will cover the full spectral range of the soils in the world.

4) How do I get this calibration database developed in my country?

To determine where to next develop the calibration database, our Business Development team constantly looks for high value markets and partners. A high value market is a market where farmers will highly benefit from our solutions, where the implementation of new agricultural technologies is simple and where we will easily find partners with the correct profile to ensure impact amongst all stakeholders. For example, we expect from our launching partners, to have extensive knowledge of local agricultural practices, but also feet on the ground and a real access to farmers.

Soil sampling begins

Once both Market and Partner have passed the research phase, the actual soil sampling begins. We train the local teams of our partner on how to properly collect and prepare the soil samples before they are shipped, processed and added to our database.

Customization of the local fertilisation recommendations

The last step in getting a new country operational is the adaptation of our system and the soil reports generated from the Scanner and the Lab-in-a-Box to the local needs. This requires translations but more importantly the customization of the fertilisation recommendation to include local fertiliser types, crops and practices. The entire process can easily take between 4 and 12 months depending again on the size and complexity of the country and partner.

Extensive market research before calibrating a country

Calibrating a country is a time-consuming and difficult process. That is why we are selective when choosing the next calibrated country. Maeva Gauvrit, Business Development expert at SoilCares, points out: “Before calibrating a country we conduct extensive market research to identify the right launching partner. We consider three factors when deciding which will be the next calibrated country. First and foremost, we assess our potential partner. We analyse whether they have the right experience, network, investment capacity and capability to adopt our soil testing technology. Secondly, we assess the commercial potential of the country, focusing on farmers’ awareness of the importance of soil testing and whether there is a demand for such services. Lastly, we consider whether it is logical to calibrate this country in terms of its location. It is more rational to spread to a country that is bordering countries where we are already active.”

5) Why can you not use my already existing soil database to enrich yours?

Prospective partners often offer us to use their own soil database and integrate it in our Global Soil Database. This way we can provide our services in their country without the need of a costly and time-consuming calibration process. Unfortunately, this is not possible. We base our prediction models only on our in-house developed regression models.

To ensure the accuracy of the results and the quality of the database, every sample needs to be collected and processed in exactly the same way and conditions following strict protocols and procedures. The soil sampling, for example, has to be done in exactly the same way using the same equipment. That is why we provide the sample taking equipment and training.

However, we do use external soil databases to identify the location and number of soil samples we need to collect to calibrate a country.

6) Where is your database currently operational?

Currently the calibration database has been developed for the Netherlands, Ukraine, Ivory Coast, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Zambia, Namibia and three states of the USA: North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota.

The calibration process has started in Mexico, Poland, Hungary, Myanmar, Turkey, Denmark and the Philippines. This means samples are currently being taken and processed in these countries.

SoilCares is in the market preparation stage for the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, Indonesia, Botswana, South Africa, Argentina and the rest of the USA. This mean we are exploring the market in these countries and looking for potential partners.

Are you from one of these countries and interested in our technology? Feel free to contact us!

*As of August 2018 SoilCares is part of AgroCares.