Why truffle farming needs a data-first approach
Controlling the uncontrollable elements with soil sensors
Truffle farming is a complex operation, and for the farm to operate effectively, all pieces of the equation need to be exactly right to yield more truffles and return the most profit. Truffle initiation, development, maturity, quality and aromatics are all heavily influenced by temperature and rainfall. This means water regimes are particularly important during summer seasons to ensure the proper initiation of truffles.
Growing truffles has historically been an analogue endeavour, with farmers keeping tight-lipped about their best practises and industry secrets, passing them down as whispers to close ones. Yet, when water regimes are so important to effectively grow truffles, technology that measures soil moisture, temperature and salinity can enable farmers to optimise their practices and yield more truffles per year.
Optimising soil for truffle farming
Soil conditions suitable for truffle growing are quite specific. Soil texture, structure and natural drainage must meet very tightly defined standards to produce high-quality truffles. 38-40F is the optimum temperature for when truffles start to grow. In the continental south, these temperatures may not be particularly difficult to achieve, yet higher up in the UK and Nordics, the slot for truffle farming may be extremely short. Using technology that measures the temperature of the soil at different depths, farmers can record their soil’s history over time and understand the optimal growing seasons.
Likewise for moisture, having the ability to control when you irrigate can mean the difference between harvesting a crop or not. The system design of your irrigation should specifically allow for the dynamic and changing needs of the truffle trees as they mature. By using a soil moisture sensor, farmers can pinpoint exactly when and where they need to irrigate and in real-time. The added benefit of a buried wireless sensor is that farmers can see and control the moisture temperature in remote locations without needing to physically attend the growing site.
The control of moisture and air content down to 30 cm is really important for growing truffles. Since truffles are living and breathing organisms, they need oxygen while being able to exhaust carbon dioxide. Optimal irrigation leaves soil pore space open for gas exchange (instead of filling it with water). Maintaining a balance between moisture and air is a significant challenge that Soil Scout and SubAir Systems are solving together.
Soil Scout’s sensor transmits moisture, temperature, and salinity data in real-time from up to 2 metres below the surface, while SubAir’s subsurface aeration and moisture removal units guarantee ideal conditions by automatically adjusting the moisture levels of the soil according to live, real-time soil conditions. In a sudden downpour, the vacuum systems activate to eliminate excess moisture in the soil profile, with 36x faster drainage than natural drainage alone.
Digital measurements are key with climate change
Climate change means that growing seasons will be different in the future compared to the past and that weather will vary more from year to year than before. What’s more, truffle growing is a long-term endeavour; therefore, the changing weather must be considered when selecting a suitable site, and technology can be adapted to track these long trends so that we can better predict how to deal with certain outcomes in the future. For example, if a farm is to produce for 30-40 years; what will the temperature and rainfall patterns be in 2050? With technology, you can follow and predict these patterns and then reproduce the most favourable conditions.
The more accurate and optimal truffle farms can change and fine-tune their operations with information from soils, the better off truffle farms will be. Since establishing truffle farms in the 1970s, the climate and practices have changed significantly – don’t stay in the past, unlock the true potential of your soil today with Soil Scout.
Written by Tim Gilbert