The potential for using smartphones as portable soil nutrient analyzers on suburban farms in central East China
- Soil testing is frequently conducted to specify nutrient supply recommendations. By adjusting fertilizer type and application rates, farmers can achieve desired crop yields with lower production costs and are thereby less likely to contribute to eutrophication of nearby waterbodies. However, traditional methods of soil testing can be costly, time-consuming and are often impractical in rural and resource-poor regions in China, where rapid population growth and consequent food demand must be balanced against potential environment risks. Smartphones are nearly ubiquitous and offer a ready capability for providing additional support for existing extension advice. In this study, we used an Android-based smartphone application, in conjunction with commercially-available Quantofix test strips, to analyze soil samples with a goal of providing specific fertilizer recommendations. The app transforms the smartphone into a portable reflectometer, relating the reaction color of the test strips to the concentration of soil nutrients available. A 6-month long field study involving two growing seasons of vegetables was conducted in a suburban area of Nanjing, Jiangsu Province of China to evaluate the accuracy and precision of smartphone-mediated soil analysis. Results obtained via the smartphone correlated well with the yield response of the common green vegetable Ipomoea aquatica (water spinach) and could be applied in calculations of necessary off-farm inputs throughout the open-field vegetable growing season. Together, the smartphone and test strip in combination were shown to offer an acceptable screening tool for soil nutrient concentration assessment with the potential to result in substantial monetary savings and reduction of nutrient loss to the environment.