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In-field tissue testing, made affordableIn-field tissue testing, made affordable

A new subscription-based tissue testing system means farmers can have near-instant results on 12 different nutrients, right in the field. Here’s how it works.

Holly Spangler

October 13, 2023

4 Min Read
 John Mascoe, founder and CEO of Leaftech Ag, stands next to corn
INSTANT RESULTS: “The beauty of this technology is that we can do something today,” says John Mascoe, founder and CEO of Leaftech Ag. Photos by Holly Spangler

John Mascoe knows a good idea when he sees it — in part because he’s been around the precision agriculture block since 1996. All those years, all the data, all the trials and all the limitations led him to develop a new and improved in-field tissue testing system known as Leaftech Ag. The part that’s different? Near instantaneous results.

“We can scan in 15 seconds and then process results in three to five minutes, given a good cellular connection,” says Mascoe, CEO and founder of Leaftech Ag, based near Greenfield, Ind. “We can see results there in the field.”

That means a farmer or agronomist can take tissue samples across a field and generate a prescription and an application map in less than an hour.

“Growers can be more responsive to what the plants need, with the targeted application of what it needs at the right time,” Mascoe explains.

The upshot is that farmers can reduce the inputs they need to increase yield by getting a targeted and timely tissue reading through the Leaftech Ag digital lab. It geolocates and analyzes a plant’s leaf for nutrient composition, providing 30 times more site-specific data points “at 3% of the cost, in three to five minutes instead of three to five days,” Mascoe says.

Speedy test results

Mascoe says the longtime limiting factor in precision ag has been response time. His in-field tissue testing units use sensors that determine 41 bands of spectra, which lets them accurately identify the spectral signatures for 12 different nutrients. Nitrogen, for example, expresses itself in an intensity of light, so the tissue tester measures those intensities across multiple bands and validates results according to other labs. He claims they’re 99% accurate compared to lab-tested tissue.

According to Mascoe, Leaftech Ag is different from other tissue testing models because it’s not inferring nutrient content by chlorophyll content; it’s actually measuring by spectral signature. Plus, it can deliver 12 nutrients in a single scan and deliver the results to the field in three to five minutes.

Leaftech Ag tissue testing unit testing a corn leaf

The Leaftech Ag units have just finished their second growing season of use and testing, including a precommercial release in 2023. They’re available commercially for 2024.

The Leaftech Ag digital lab is available for a $15,000 annual subscription, which includes unlimited tissue tests and app-based delivery, and ownership of your data. At the end of the season, the farmer or agronomist returns the unit; then Leaftech Ag handles any maintenance, updates or upgrades.

Mascoe recommends a “hyper-dense” baseline read at the beginning of the season, and then weekly tissue testing thereafter. And because you’re not destroying leaves, you can go back to the same plant over and over again.

“So, if you want to look at crop biologicals, you can test, find out what biologicals are there, then apply what you need,” he says. “That’s why we recommend a dense one to begin with and get a lot of data going through. Then you can spot-check and see: ‘Did the application I made last week really move through the plant?’”

Leaftech Ag tissue testing unit display screen


Mascoe believes very few soils have low fertility levels at this point, because of intense fertilizer application over the years. What he wants to do is help farmers understand exactly what’s there and what’s bioavailable to the crop — and then target those needs exactly.

“As we go down the road, we’re going to face more regulatory compliance around nutrient applications,” Mascoe says. “We’re going to have to verify that we are specific in our nutrient management stewardship.”

He sees tissue testing as a complement to soil testing: It can help farmers target their soil testing by measuring the biology of the plant.

“This is a shift from the chemistry of farming to the biology of farming,” he adds.

Read more about:

Tissue Testing

About the Author(s)

Holly Spangler

Senior Editor, Prairie Farmer, Farm Progress

Holly Spangler has covered Illinois agriculture for more than two decades, bringing meaningful production agriculture experience to the magazine’s coverage. She currently serves as editor of Prairie Farmer magazine and Executive Editor for Farm Progress, managing editorial staff at six magazines throughout the eastern Corn Belt. She began her career with Prairie Farmer just before graduating from the University of Illinois in agricultural communications.

An award-winning writer and photographer, Holly is past president of the American Agricultural Editors Association. In 2015, she became only the 10th U.S. agricultural journalist to earn the Writer of Merit designation and is a five-time winner of the top writing award for editorial opinion in U.S. agriculture. She was named an AAEA Master Writer in 2005. In 2011, Holly was one of 10 recipients worldwide to receive the IFAJ-Alltech Young Leaders in Ag Journalism award. She currently serves on the Illinois Fairgrounds Foundation, the U of I Agricultural Communications Advisory committee, and is an advisory board member for the U of I College of ACES Research Station at Monmouth. Her work in agricultural media has been recognized by the Illinois Soybean Association, Illinois Corn, Illinois Council on Agricultural Education and MidAmerica Croplife Association.

Holly and her husband, John, farm in western Illinois where they raise corn, soybeans and beef cattle on 2,500 acres. Their operation includes 125 head of commercial cows in a cow/calf operation. The family farm includes John’s parents and their three children.

Holly frequently speaks to a variety of groups and organizations, sharing the heart, soul and science of agriculture. She and her husband are active in state and local farm organizations. They serve with their local 4-H and FFA programs, their school district, and are active in their church's youth and music ministries.

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