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Photo by: Bridget Broihahn

The staff at Soil Diagnostics, Inc. all agree that the soil here in Central Illinois is very fertile.

"That's because the soil is moderate to high in organic matter," Dr. Saeed Khan said from the company's headquarters in Research Park, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Khan is the lead soil scientist at Soil Diagnostics, Inc. He has over 30 years of experience and insight into soil chemistry, soil biology and agricultural management practices. Khan has devoted his work to understanding soil fertility and how it relates to crops, and agriculture in general.

"For 15 years, I worked with Professor Richard Mulvaney. I also helped my father-in-law, who is a farmer. There was an overabundance of nitrogen in his soil, but he continued to fertilize it. It wasn't needed," Khan said.

Soil Diagnostics, Inc. has based their products on research that shows the content of the soil, whether it be the chemical make-up or the pathogens that can threaten crop output.

"Our objective is to help the farmer with knowledge about their soil," Dr. Kaustubh Bahlero said.

Bahlero is the CEO of Soil Diagnostics, Inc. As an associate professor of biological engineering at the UI, and skilled in automation, instrumentation, and the integration of hardware with web technologies. He is a co-inventor on the SCNExtractor and FertiSaver-N products, along with Dr. Chinmay Soman.

Soman has expertise in agricultural and soil sustainability and is leading the development of the FertiSaver-N assay. He wants to ensure optimal performance of the product. He also works with Professor Mulvaney and the Mulvaney lab, which tests validity, reliability and accuracy of the FertiSaver-N assay. An assay is an investigative procedure to determine the presence and then the amount of a substance.

Together with Benjamin Thompson, soil diagnostics jack-of-all trades, former UI student and veteran who recently returned from tours in the Middle East, the group feels that farmers need to understand their soil for two reasons: they may be over-fertilizing, and they need to know if and where they have pathogens that can inhibit crop output.

"We measure nitrogen soil supply and capacity," Bahlero said of the FertiSaver-N product.

Soil Diagnostics, Inc. research has shown that often farmers are over-fertilizing here in Central Illinois. There is an overabundance of nitrogen in most of the soil in the area.

"There can also be pollution from run-off," Soman said. "And we understand why farmers over-fertilize. If they knew that there is an abundance of nitrogen in the soil and how much they actually need to get the best crop output, they could use the appropriate amount."

"That is what we can provide for them with our program," Bahlero said.

"A case in point," Saeed said. "My father-in-law reduced his fertilizer added to his soil by half. He gets a better crop."

The SCNExtractor technology helps measure the presence of soybean cyst nematode. SCN cause an estimated $1 billion loss in soybean yields in the US Midwest alone. To manage these infestations, soil samples are taken and measured. The process can be expensive and time consuming. SCNExtractor technology can process samples 20 to 40 times that of other technologies, therefore reducing the cost.

Farmers will often overuse the seed that is resistant to SCN, which can be expensive and not necessary. The SCNExtractor technology shows a grid of farmers' land so they can apply the right kind of seed to the appropriate areas.

The team a Soil Diagnostics, Inc. has worked hard to ensure the reliability of their products. They put thought into all aspects of the processes that are used in their products. Even the sample jars are user-friendly.

"We want it to be as easy as possible. If we can shave off a half-second for each sample processed, that is a huge time-saver," Soman said.

Bahlero showed Central Illinois Business how easy it is to run a diagnostic of the soil sample. The easy-to-use hexagonal-shaped jar was inserted in the diagnostic machine and immediately the sample was logged unto a computer screen. It was obvious what course of action would be needed for that portion of the field.

And for the Soil Diagnostics team that gives them more time helping the farmer and in the field, where they need to be, and not behind a microscope.

"That's what we're here to do: help the farmer," Thompson said.