Increasing food production to meet the needs of the world’s growing population, currently 6.7 billion and set to reach 8.2 billion by 2050, is one of the major challenges confronting the world. On the face of our planet the land suitable for agriculture is limited and its extension into other areas, such as decertified or forest covered lands, often raises environmental problems.
The optimisation of crop quality from existing agricultural land is therefore essential to meet the growing world population food needs. Achieving the necessary balance of quantitative and qualitative crop production in a sustainable way lies in what is known as the ‘precision farming’ concept. Precision farming is based on providing crops with exactly the right amount of fertiliser needed at each stage of their growing cycle, thereby preventing the rinse-off of excess nutrients, thus preserving the quality of both the soil and water resources. And, that fertiliser need is determined by measurements taken directly from the crop itself.
To convert arid land puts unsustainable pressure on available water resources and adversely affects communities already suffering from water shortage. Moreover, gaining agriculture land from deforestation would accelerate global warming as forests play a vital role in absorbing CO2. Also, a significant loss of trees in the environment can lead to erosion and unstable soil conditions, with an increased likelihood of damaging landslides.
Preserving soil quality and water resources of agricultural lands while optimising yields is therefore key to addressing the world food challenge. In this context, the sustainable use of mineral fertilisers plays an essential role.
Precision farming, through the optimal use of fertilisers, enables farmers more effective and efficient use of their existing land to increase crop size and quality. In assessing the correct level of fertiliser for crops such as wheat, barley and rye, of which nitrogen is of prime importance, the farmer is now aided by the N-Tester. The N-Tester is a hand-held device enabling the simple and fast measurement of a crop’s chlorophyll content, which is the key indicator of its nitrogen status. Requiring only 30 quick leaf measurements across a field and within a few minutes it provides the farmer with a precise measure of the crop’s exact N-fertiliser needs.
Use of the N-Tester is a significant advance on the methods currently practised. Soil sampling and laboratory analysis are time intensive and costly. Judgement of fertiliser needs based on the farmer’s personal experience, is complicated by the introduction of new crop species each year. Recommendations of fertiliser producers cannot always take into account differences in soil quality or changing climatic conditions. While a combination of the farmer’s judgement and the producers’ recommendations are still important, the N-Tester gives more accurate information to support them.