Automatic probe samples soil fast

Jim Burton farmed for 35 years and did his share of poking holes in the soil to take soil samples. “I didn’t like the work, and I don’t know anyone who does,” he says.

When the Arkansas corn, soybean, rice and wheat farmer retired in 1997, it occurred to him that with all the precision farming going on, there would be a need for an automated soil-sampling device — one that would take samples on the go.

Jim and his son Jeff worked the next 10 years to develop the AutoProbe, voted one of the top 10 new ag products at the 2008 World Ag Expo. The new probe worked well in every way, “but it was expensive and more suited to being used as a service machine than one that would be sold to users,” Jim says. “We wanted something in between the sophisticated AutoProbe and the conventional manual probing with an ATV for travel through the fields.”

Key Points

New automated soil-probe machine is now available for sale.

The new machine is twice as fast as conventional methods.

The machine is most suited for sampling as a service or a business.

So for the past three years, their company, AgRobotics, worked to develop an automated soil probe that could be sold to ag retailers, consultants and other farm service companies that do a lot of soil sampling for farmers. They’ve tested it for two years, and now are “ready to introduce it to the world,” Jim says.

“We’ve got an excellent product that we know provides quality samples in less than half the time of traditional hand sampling,” Jeff says. “What we really need now is for people who do a lot of soil sampling to see this machine firsthand and operate it themselves to see what it can do.”

RapidProbe road trip

Since the Burtons had a specialty item that wasn’t economical to produce without pre-orders and they couldn’t put it on dealers’ lots, they looked for another way to show it to prospective customers. “We decided I should hit the road with it,” explains Jim. He and his wife, Mary, got in their Ford pickup on June 21, hooked on a trailer with the RapidProbe aboard, and started a three-week swing of nine Western states.

The RapidProbe takes a 21-inch-long core on an angle to get a sample to a 12-inch depth (core lengths are variable). The sampling arm rotates upward with the core and dumps it into an auger trough. The soil sample is augered to the center, where it falls into a grinder. The ground sample is then augered into the cab, where it falls into the waiting sample bag. After the probe is taken, the rest of the process takes place while the machine and operator are on their way to the next probe site.

The RapidProbe soil sampling machinery is currently mounted on a Kubota ATV with a climate-controlled cab. It can be taken off in a matter of minutes to use the ATV for other purposes.

“There’s nothing like putting your hands on it, or watching the soil go in the bag, to prove to yourself it works well,” Jim says. “It makes a favorable impression.”

The Burtons say the machine will pay for itself in a season by doubling the acres they could cover; it can do 30,000 acres in a season. “Speed is important because of the short window of time you have to get the samples,” notes Jim.

One experienced soil sampler, Scott Bowen, says he doubted the RapidProbe could beat him and his ATV in the field, and last summer the race was on.

“I lost. The RapidProbe will certainly do better in compacted ground. For that race, I couldn’t even get the probe in the ground,” says Bowen, who works for United Soils Inc. “But the machine was incredibly fast. There’s a lot to that rig.”


Betts writes from Johnston.


HALF THE TIME: Twice as fast as a four-wheeler and a hand probe, the Burtons’ automated soil probe can cover up to 1,200 acres of 2.5-acre grid samples in a day.

This article published in the August, 2011 edition of WALLACES FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.