For over 120 years, agriculturalists have been aware of the importance of soil testing, particularly elemental analysis, to ensure the health and productivity of crops. Historically this has been accomplished by randomly sampling soil across a representative region of the field and sending them off to a laboratory to be analyzed using chromatography, mass spectrometry, and various wet chemistry techniques. While precise, the current approach is highly time-consuming and costly.

Fortunately, recent developments in compact portable spectroscopy instrumentation have enabled on-site elemental analysis via x-ray fluorescence (XRF) and laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS). Not only does portable spectroscopy reduce the time and cost associated with soil analysis. It also enables users to perform smaller-scale localized surveys to help facilitate precision agriculture and improve yield. Portable LIBS is generally viewed as the superior tool for soil analysis of the two methodologies since XRF cannot measure lighter elements – C, N, Na, Mg, Si, P, and K. All of which are extremely important to determining the health and viability of soil. For example, since N, P, and K are three essential nutrients for plant life, NPK-testing is vital for understanding the proper fertilizer.

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