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Precision nutrient management for improved efficiency, healthier and more productive soils under maize and wheat systems in India

Precision or site-specific nutrient management (SSNM) is a science-based approach by which crops receive nutrients as and when needed, according to specific field conditions in a given cropping season. To apply it, farmers and their technical support need to know local crop yields, tillage systems, residue management, fertilizer use, external inputs, and the nutrient supplying capacity of the soil.

Adoption of such complex, knowledge-intensive approaches is slow, so the International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI), a not-for-profit, science-based organization headquartered at Norcross, Georgia, USA, has developed simple delivery systems entitled “Nutrient Expert” both for wheat and for hybrid maize, in consultation with scientists from the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), several state agricultural universities, and CIMMYT. The Nutrient Expert systems are suited to diverse soils and management scenarios in India.

On 10 August, 55 agricultural experts from India’s public and private sectors gathered in New Delhi for a one day workshop on “Nutrient decision support systems for cereals and their dissemination strategies using ICTs” to discuss these systems and how to share them more widely by way of information and communication technologies such as cell phone services and CIMMYT-Agriplex.

Participants highlighted the need for more information on nutrient requirements under varied growing  conditions in complex agroecologies and for Nutrient Expert to encompass those scenarios, as well as to adopt a “situation-specific” (rather than site-specific) approach and consider nutrient addition or mining effects from previous crops. A version of Nutrient Expert is also required for rice and for rice-wheat, rice-maize and maize-wheat cropping systems.

Like all models, Nutrient Expert requires validation for specific circumstances. The workshop discussed ways to do this, including comparison with Soil Test Crop Response (STCR), State Recommendation (SR) and Farmers Fertilizer Practice (FFP) based recommendations.

Nutrient Expert recommendations focus on the major nutrients―nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium―but also needs to give specific rates for secondary and micronutrients (currently the systems include only a “Yes/No” decision for those nutrients). The All India Crops Research Program (AICRP) on micronutrients should be able to provide the required data.

The group appointed a multiorganization/stakeholder team to help plan the addition of Nutrient Expert to policy guidelines for making fertilizer recommendations. DCM Shriram Consolidated Limited (DSCL) requested a partnership with private industry and offered to validate Nutrient Expert in their Hariyali Kisan Bazar (HKB) farmer service centers.

Jointly organized by IPNI and CIMMYT, the workshop was attended by Dr PS Minhas, ADG (Soil and Water Management), ICAR directors and officers, vice chancellors and other officers from state agricultural universities, the State Department of Agriculture, the private sector, and nongovernment organizations, as well as scientists from IPNI (Adrian Johnston, Kaushik Majumdar, T Satyanarayana, Mira), CIMMYT (Pat Wall, Raj Gupta, ML Jat, Ajai Kumar), the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI; YS Saharawat), and hubs of the Cropping Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA; HS Sidhu, BR Kamboj, Kanwar Singh).