According to, a team of the University of Wisconsin researchers have developed a new, less expensive way of determining nitrate levels in soil, and the data is in real-time.

  New tech developed to help farmers

According to, the team has created digital 'stickers' that are sensors, and are applied to a rod that is buried in soil.  The stickers are placed at different heights and once activated, can provide real-time current information about how much nitrate is in the ground, and at different soil depths.

Nitrate is a necessary component in growing crops, but it can also be harmful to humans. Nitrates often leech into groundwater or other water supplies and if consumed by humans or animals, can be harmful.

There are tiny acceptable amounts, but too much can significantly hurt pregnant women and babies. For example, many years ago a water source in a restroom located in the pit area at the Tri-City Raceway located in West Richland WA had a sign warning not to consume the water. It was not part of the track's main water system, these pipes only supplied one restroom in the middle pit area.

But the water that came out was tinged white, like diluted milk. There were signs everywhere not to consume that well water.

Now, the researchers say these sensors can not only determine how much nitrate is in the soil, but also its paths, and if it appears it's seeping down to water supplies.  They did initial testing in Wisconsin, but hope to expand testing to other states with different types of fields and soils.

LOOK: Food history from the year you were born

From product innovations to major recalls, Stacker researched what happened in food history every year since 1921, according to news and government sources.

Gallery Credit: Joni Sweet

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