Plant Nutrition 2.0: The Fertilizer Industry Embraces AgTech
In theory there’s a very straightforward way to sustainably feed the world’s growing population while protecting the planet.
By adopting the 4Rs of Nutrient Stewardship – applying the Right nutrient source, at the Right rate, at the Right time, in the Right place, farmers can increase crop yields on existing land, reduce nutrients losses to the environment while also using less fertilizer.
The 4Rs can help preserve wild ecosystems and reduce deforestation, increase carbon capture through soil organic matter and reduce the estimated 1.5% of global greenhouse gasses that are currently produced by fertilizer application.
Of course, real life isn’t so simple. Crop nutrition is a complicated subject with many variables including soil health and the weather. It’s very difficult for farmers to know exactly what fertilizers to apply, when and in what amount.
Which is why a growing number of farmers and agronomists are turning to technology.
Digital tools that improve fertilizer decision-making and application, climate-smart fertilizers with enhanced efficiency, as well as new products to improve soil and plant health, can all help farmers increase their yields and improve their nutrient use efficiency.
Held during IFA’s Annual Conference in June, the inaugural Plant Nutrition Startup Showcase highlighted the wide range of agricultural technology (AgTech) startups that are choosing to work in the space and the numerous possibilities for innovative products.
With so much potential it’s not just startups that are embracing innovations. An increasing number of IFA members are beginning to invest into biologicals and digital tools, as well as startups themselves, as they look to become full-service plant nutrition service providers.
Decipher is transforming the way the agriculture industry manages nutrition
In 2017, Wesfarmers launched a digital precision agriculture platform, Decipher, the first commercial farming service to use the Google Earth Engine to combine satellite images, geospatial data and processing power to analyse crops and provide variate rate fertilizer prescriptions.
Farmers and agronomists can easily adopt the 4R’s of nutrient stewardship to optimise resources and increase yields using Decipher:
- Use biomass imagery, farm data layers and management zones to identify variability – select representative sample sites
- Determine the current nutrient status of soil using the sampling feature
- View the sample results on the map for further analysis
- Develop crop and nutrition plans using the Plans feature
- Create management zones and prescription files for VRT (variable rate seeding and applications)
- Monitor crop growth performance throughout the season using biomass imagery
- Ground-truth areas of interest using the Scout feature
These recent investments help to highlight the potential of technology to significantly improve plant nutrition.
In addition to digital tools to optimize fertilizer recommendations and ensure more precise and targeted fertilizer application, there are also considerable opportunities for new fertilizer products and techniques that better synchronize nutrient release with plants’ needs, as well as new materials to help nutrient delivery, such as nanoparticles and graphene.
Other areas with potential for innovation include products that can improve plant resilience to flooding and droughts, organo-mineral offerings that combine organic and mineral fertilizers, and products mixing mineral fertilizers with biologicals that can potentially further improve plant yield and quality, as well as soil health.
With the growth of pressurised irrigation systems which improve yields and resilience to dry spells, developing new water-soluble and liquid fertilizers to apply water and fertilizers simultaneously also offers a great opportunity for improving the efficiency of both inputs.
Today, the fertilizer industry, alongside a range of AgTech startups, are launching and supporting a wide range of high-tech plant nutrient solutions, while growing interest is helping to create a vibrant ecosystem of plant nutrition innovations.
With such technologies becoming increasingly accessible and affordable, these tools should soon be able to help farmers throughout the world efficiently manage fertilizers to increase yields, reduce losses and sustainably producing food in a variety of changing climates.
Originally published by International Fertilizers Association.
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