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USDA-NRCS rangeland scientist Emilio Carrillo tests the new LandPKS mobile app on his smartphone. Click the image for more information about it.

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Smart Phone App Balances Conservation and Production

By Jan Suszkiw
January, 25, 2017

New mobile phone applications ("apps") are helping farmers and land managers balance productivity with conservation. Known as the "Land-Potential Knowledge System" (LandPKS), the suite of apps identifies and delivers information about specific soils to anyone with a mobile phone, according to Jeff Herrick, a soil scientist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

LandPKS, which includes the LandInfo and LandCover modules, combines cloud computing, digital soil-mapping data, and the Global Positioning System (GPS) to provide information about the sustainable potential of land under current and future climate, adds Herrick, who is with the USDA-Agricultural Research Service's Jornada Experimental Range in Las Cruces.

Herrick and his collaborators developed LandPKS because of the unique challenges that today's producers and land managers face in feeding a world population of seven billion people while also protecting soil, water, and other natural resources.

The current version of the LandInfo module allows the user to collect soil and site-specific topographic data, while the LandCover module can document ground cover, vegetation height, plant density, and spatial patterns of vegetation affecting soil erosion. The collected information is stored in a centralized, open access database and becomes part of a data system that in the future will identify management options for sites having similar topography, soils, and climatic conditions, Herrick said. The app is available for free at, the Google Playstore, and the iTunes App Store (by searching "LandPKS").

Herrick is part of an international team that developed, tested, and released the apps as part of a cooperative agreement with the United States Agency for International Development. His domestic collaborators include ARS ecologist Jason Karl; USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service soil scientists Joel Brown and Skye Wills; and Jason Neff, director of the Sustainability Innovation Lab at University of Colorado, Boulder.

You can read more about LandPKS in the January 2017 issue of AgResearch Magazine. ARS is USDA's principal intramural scientific research agency.