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Sensor helps farmers make real-time decisions to raise crops

By Dianna Troyer

For Idaho Farm Bureau Federation

Soiltech Wireless, an agriculture technology company headquartered in Rupert, has won two prestigious national awards for its innovative soil sensor.

In October, the company won the Plug and Play North Dakota Agtech Startup Competition. In December, Soiltech won the agriculture category of the Irrigation Association’s 2021 Pitch Competition.

“We’re proud to be a local company and to count southern Idaho as our home,” said Ehsan Soltan, founder and chief executive officer. “We developed our technology with local farmers driving the requirements and work closely with the College of Southern Idaho to give back to the community and to ensure tech innovation continues to move our great state forward.”

Since its development in 2017, the sensors have sold worldwide and have been used with more than 25 types of crops. The durable device resembles a plump, lemon-colored, 8-inch-tall thermos.

Buried in a field, the wireless sensor provides information about moisture, temperature, humidity, and other data. Via the Soiltech app, data is transmitted to a cell phone, tablet or computer, enabling farmers to make real-time decisions ranging from irrigation to harvest schedules.

Farmers can also use the app to customize safe zones and receive alerts when any of their parameters are breached.

Soltan programmed the sensors with the Natural Resources Conservation Service soil data and Global Positioning System software.

“Each sensor recognizes what type of soil it’s buried in, so some farmers place a sensor in the different soil types in a field,” Soltan said.

Since marketing the sensors at trade shows, they have sold throughout the United States, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Germany, South Africa and Australia. 

Producers use them to grow apples, asparagus, green beans, blueberries, cabbage, carrots, sweet and tart cherries, cranberries, cucumbers, grapes, oats, onions, peaches, plums, peas, bell peppers, potatoes, pumpkins, raspberries, strawberries, sweet corn, tobacco, tomatoes, watermelon, and wheat. 

After winning Plug and Play North Dakota, Soltan decided to open a branch in Fargo, N.D., this coming spring with seven employees.

Plug and Play is an innovation platform headquartered in Silicon Valley, connecting startups, corporations, venture capital firms, universities and government agencies.

“Choosing Fargo as the hub for our Midwest operations was easy, based on support from several organizations there,” Soltan said. “We look forward to helping the agriculture industry in the region with our technology.”

In December during the Irrigation Association’s Irrigation Show and Education Week in San Diego, Soltan gave a winning presentation, competing against eight other startup executives in agriculture and landscape categories.

Soltan designed and manufactured the sensor after consulting with southeastern Idaho farmers to see what information they needed.

“They wanted a multi-functional device that would provide data throughout a crop production cycle, including growth, harvest, transport, and storage,” Soltan said. “The sensors are planted in spring and retrieved in fall at harvest.”

After harvest, the sensors can be recharged with a USB cord. Each sensor has a five-year lifespan.

The sensors have given peace of mind to Randy Bauscher, co-owner of B & H Farms, based in Rupert. He said their accuracy, toughness, affordability, and year-long battery life impressed him.

“I used them mostly in potato fields to measure soil moisture and for bruise spot analysis at harvest,” he said. “Three years ago, I bought three. Two years ago, I bought 15 more. This past year, I used 50.”

He also relied on the sensors to know the temperature in a cellar where he stored seed potatoes.

“The cellar is 100 miles from where I live, so the sensors allowed me to monitor the temperature and humidity there to make sure the potatoes didn’t freeze,” he said. “It saved me from having nervous nights or driving out there to check on them.”

This coming season, Bauscher said he plans to bury sensors at 12 inches and 18 inches to track fluctuating moisture levels in fields.

Soltan has marketed the sensor at trade shows, inviting farmers to kick and drop one to demonstrate its strength.

“It’s good to talk to farmers and hear their comments about how the sensors are working for them,” Soltan said.