A new study tests a stepping-stone for small-scale precision agriculture fertilizer application.
The authors of the study write that precision agriculture for smallholder farmers is often seen as a far-fetched idea, but that these farmers are the most vulnerable to climate-change-related issues and would benefit most from this technology.
Hundreds of millions of smallholder farmers feed one-third of the global population. According to the authors, addressing future food security and growing pressure on natural resources will require sustainable intensification, including precision agriculture.
Precision agriculture uses technologies in the attempt to apply nearly exact required inputs, such as fertilizer, to crops. This is a much more targeted approach than that of conventional farming, in which a constant amount of fertilizer is applied across all cultivated land, regardless of actual need.
Since nitrogen is often the limiting nutrient for plant growth and in particular grain yield, it is a key fertilization target. When applied in traditional methods, up to 70 percent of applied nitrogen is lost into the surrounding environment, resulting in pollution of air and water leading to algae blooms in nearby bodies of water.
For this study, scientists attached a small nitrogen sensor called the GreenSeeker® Handheld to conventional farming equipment in the attempt to create a real-time, informed fertilizer placement system that would be accessible to most farmers.
The GreenSeeker® sensor measures the greenness of a plant. This is determined by the production of chlorophyll, which is limited by nitrogen availability. Based on the color of the plant, scientists use an algorithm to determine how much nitrogen should be applied to return the plant to optimal health.
The authors found that while there was room for improvement in operational efficiency and responsiveness of the setup, this approach was promising. They said the kit used was meant to be a low-level investment farmers could add onto existing equipment to enable better control of daily operations. They say that if farmers invest in the equipment and fine-tune the distribution of fertilizer to their fields, they should be able to “transform themselves into precise high output agro-entrepreneurs.”
As usual many people are involved during the development of projects as these, and in this case a special mention to Louis Gabarra would like to be made by the authors for his contribution during his student internship in making the first prototype versions presented here come to reality.
Check out the full article: Precision for Smallholder Farmers: A Small-Scale-Tailored Variable Rate Fertilizer Application Kit. 2018. Van Loon, J. Speratti, A.B., Govaerts, B. In: Agriculture and check out other recent publication by CIMMYT staff below:
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