Fertilizers, whether organic or mineral provide essential macro and micronutrients to crops which results in more productive growth and yields. While proper fertilization is crucial for productivity, there are also negative impacts to the misuse of such products, notably the excessive application of fertilizers on farm plots which can result in the leaching of nutrients from the soil to the environment.
Nitrogen is the most easily lost nutrient in the form of nitrous oxide (N2O). It is found in healthy soil and is also known to cause the most environmental damage and economic loss to farmers. The application of synthetic nitrogen fertilizers is recognized as the most important factor contributing to the direct emission of N2O, a potent agricultural greenhouse gas with 298 times more environmental impact per molecule than carbon dioxide.
Farmers and the wider agriculture industry play a significant role in coordinating the proper usage of fertilizers to mitigate adverse impacts to the environment and reduce the threat of climate change. Site-specific nutrient management (SSNM) provides guidance relevant to the context of farmer’s fields. SSNM maintains or enhances crop yields while providing savings for farmers through more efficient fertilizer use. By minimizing the overuse of fertilizers, greenhouse gas emissions can be substantially reduced by up to 50%. Research has shown that various good management practices in farm management can reduce greenhouse gasses and ensure economic savings for farmers.
Many digital tools have been launched to support the need for proper fertilizer application over the recent years, most of which are based on the leaf colour chart (LCC) technique for nitrogen management. Some tools also use soil testing or cost-benefit analysis to guide the application and provide recommendations based on field sizes, below are few examples.
CABI’s Fertilizer Optimizer app assists farmers in using fertilizers more efficiently to improve their investment in farming products. The app records information on crops, the area planted, crop market prices and fertilizer costs along with helping farmers budget their investment in fertilizer products. Based on robust crop response functions, it calculates the most profitable combination of fertilizers to purchase and advises site-specific application rates. The app can also consider any integrated soil fertility management (ISFM) practices to tailor the recommendations for a given farm. With this tool, farmers and extension workers can have free access to advice on their mobile devices, with the app able to work offline and produce calculations in the field. The app is currently available for 12 African countries (Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia) and can be used in three languages (English, French and Portuguese).
The International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI) Nutrient Expert app enables crop advisors and agriculture extension services to obtain fertilizer recommendations tailored to field-specific conditions, which can help farmers increase their yield, market profit and fertilizer efficiency. In addition, the app offers a ‘Profit Analysis’ module that compared ex-ante profit of a farmer’s current practice versus the app’s recommendations. The version of this tool available in the Philippines for maize farmers also includes a ‘Net Profit Analysis’ calculator and a ‘Cost-Profit Scenarios’ table, both of which can help farmers make more informed decisions on fertilizer investment.
In this age of digitalization, new technologies and innovative interventions are being devised to reduce negative impacts on the environment and to ensure economic savings for farmers. This can only be achieved by the promotion of good fertilizer management practices led by such decision support tools.
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