An Innovative Solution for Agriculture Optimization | Daily News
Smart Fertilizers:

An Innovative Solution for Agriculture Optimization

Dr. Chandrika Varadachari and other officials at an event.
Dr. Chandrika Varadachari and other officials at an event.

Elevated nitrate concentrations in ground and surface water are undesirable. Nitrate leaching occurs when the soil is saturated with water and nitrate is washed below the root zone by percolating rainfall or irrigation.

Nitrate leaching is independent from the source of nitrogen, it can be caused by mineral fertilizer, organic manure or even soil organic matter. Most loss of nitrate to water occurs during winter or heavy rainy seasons.

The overall objective is therefore to minimize soil nitrate concentrations at the end of the vegetation period. Nitrogen leaching can be effectively avoided through well managed fertilization practices, e.g. by using fertilizer with a quick, predictable nitrogen release, such as nitrates.

Ammonia can be lost upon spreading of fertilizers

Ammonia volatilization occurs when ammonium is converted to ammonia and lost to the atmosphere. A high soil pH level increases conversion of ammonium to ammonia, and the losses are highest if conversion takes place at the soil surface. These two conditions are met when urea is spread and not immediately incorporated to the soil. Urea and Liquid urea-ammonium nitrate (UAN) fertilizer cause higher volatilization losses than nitrate-based fertilizer.

Increased water scarcity drives demand for new agricultural solutions

A steadily increasing population and food consumption continues to be the main driver for agricultural water use. Today most of the water globally used in agriculture does not reach the crop, as water is lost during transportation, through evaporation, runoff, drainage and transpiration.

Finding a solution

Due to the numerous disadvantages of current inorganic and organic fertilizers it is imperative to find a fertilizer solution which is not soluble in water but has all the macro, secondary and micronutrients required for the healthy growth of crops. Dr. Chandrika Varadachari, a scientist in India, has committed her career to develop a range of macro and micro nutrients which are insoluble in water. She has modified the NPK fertilizer molecules and the other micro nutrient molecules such as Zn to be insoluble in water. She has invented a manufacturing process to produce these fertilizers and has named them as ‘Smart Fertilizers’.

Dr. Varadachari is the Founder Director of the Raman Centre for Applied and Interdisciplinary Sciences. She is a globally recognized expert in new fertilizer technology, is a winner of several international and Indian awards, and, is a Fellow of the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences. She is the author of over 60 publications in reputed journals and a reviewer for leading American and European journals including those of the American Chemical Society and Elsevier.

Dr. Varadachari has been recognized for her innovation in India and the US and the technology has been patented and accepted in over 18 countries. She was awarded the ‘Next Gen Fertilizer Innovation Challenge Award’ by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) in 2021.

Living beings, including plants, require macro, secondary and micro nutrients to grow and thrive. Deficiency in any category of nutrient will result in various health issues. Humans must eat vegetables, cereals, and other foods to have a healthy body. Humans also need to take various inorganic chemical supplements such as iron, magnesium, calcium, etc. However, if we eat a well-balanced diet we do not require these as chemical supplements. The food we eat is digested by acids produced in the stomach and the body absorbs the nutrient quantities as required by the body.

The Smart Fertilizers innovated by Dr. Varadachari are designer molecules that hold the nutrient within a complex crystal ‘box’ which will give up the ‘locked away’ nutrient to the plant at the right time and in the appropriate quantity. The plant root system will release acids and enzymes to dissolve the Smart Fertilizer molecules and absorb the right amount of the fertilizer as required by the plant, similar to food digestion by humans and animals. As a result, there is no leaching, no fixation loss, no residue build up in the soil, as the Smart Fertilizer molecule is insoluble in water. Thus, all the disadvantages of the current macro, secondary and micro nutrient fertilizers are overcome by the use of Smart Fertilizers.

Have Smart Fertilizers been tested?

Smart Fertilizers have been tested in India, in Vietnam and in the US. The technology is patented in 12 countries. Moving from conventional to Smart Fertilizers can provide a country and its people the following benefits:

* Reduce environmental pollution

* Drastically reduce fertilizer dosage while also getting significantly higher yields

* Increased benefit–cost ratio to farmer

What crops can they be used for?

Smart fertilizers can be used for all crops that use traditional fertilizers, including tea, rubber, coconut, rice, maize, wheat, millets, pulses, cabbage, broccoli, spinach, radish, lettuce, cauliflower, tomatoes, chilies, beans, potatoes, coffee, pepper, cashew nut, sugarcane, groundnut and oilseeds.

Test results and approvals

In India:

* Tata Chemicals reported 10-15 percent average yield increase in rice with 0.5 kg/ha Zn (as Smart Zinc) compared to 5 kg/ha Zn (as zinc sulphate). Reported 10–25 percent yield increase of potato with 0.5 kg/ha Zn as Smart Zn) compared to 5 kg/ha Zn as zinc sulphate.

* Tata chemicals reported 10–25 percent yield increase of potato with 0.5 kg/ha Zn (as Smart Zinc) compared to 5 kg/ha Zn (as zinc sulphate).

* DCM Shriram reported on an average 16 percent yield increase in rice with 0.5 kg/ha Zn (as Smart Zinc) compared to 5 kg/ha Zn (as zinc sulphate). Data was averaged from numerous pan India trials.

* Extensive testing by the Ministry of Agriculture using Smart Zinc on rice and vegetable showed 10–14 percent yield increases.

Based on numerous and extensive trials, the Fertilizer Control Order (FCO) of the Government of India has approved Smart Zinc fertilizer for sale in India.

For DCM Shriram:

* Rice yields increased 11 percent with half dosage of Smart Phosphorus compared to DAP.

* Corn yields increased 13 percent with half dosage of Smart Phosphorus compared to DAP.

* Potato yields increased 18 percent with half dosage of Smart Phosphorus compared to DAP.

* Vegetable yields increased by 10 percent to 20 percent with half dosage of Smart Phosphorous as compared to DAP.

* Eight percent yield increases with wheat at 1/6th P dosage compared to DAP

In Vietnam:

* Extensive testing by Binh Dien JSC on rice and vegetables showed 20 percent yield increases in rice and 8–15 percent in vegetables with the use of Smart Zinc.

Based on these trials Smart Zinc is approved for sale in Vietnam.

In the USA:

* ROI for rice was more than double with Smart Zinc compared with zinc sulphate.

* ROI for cantaloupes was 850 percent over the zinc sulphate.

* The University of Illinois reported over 500 kg/ha increase in yield of corn at 40 percent reduced P dosage compared to DAP.

* Melon yields in Arizona increased by 12 percent with 1/3rd reduced P dosage compared to liquid phosphate fertilizer.

In summary

Smart Fertilizers are available as Smart Phosphate, Smart Nitrogen, and Smart Zinc. Other micronutrients such as iron, boron, copper, etc will soon be available.

* Smart Phosphate is a replacement for DAP fertilizers and eliminates phosphate pollution of water and the dosage required is 50% as compared to traditional inorganic fertilizers.

* Smart Nitrogen is a replacement for urea and cuts down water pollution and gaseous emissions. Further, it reduces dosage by 20 percent as compared to traditional inorganic fertilizers.

* Smart Zinc is a replacement for zinc sulphate. It cuts down dosage by 90 percent and produces excellent yield improvements in rice, vegetables, etc.

Smart Fertilizers vs. slow-release fertilizers and nano fertilizers

Before we conclude, let us look briefly at how Smart Fertilizers compare with slow-release and nano fertilizers.

* Only Smart Fertilizers are 100 percent environment friendly. Neither slow-release nor nano fertilizers are non-polluting.

* Slow-release fertilizers leave polymeric residues; on the contrary, Smart Fertilizers contain 100 percent plant nutrients that are food for plants and hence cause no residue build-up.

* Nano fertilizers leach into ground water with severe toxic consequences that are more impactful than even the regular soluble fertilizers. Smart Fertilizers will not leach. There is no question of water pollution.

* Slow-release fertilizers require expensive raw materials to produce the polymers for coatings. Nano materials require expensive organic materials or complex production process operations. Smart Fertilizers are produced from low-cost, widely available raw materials.

* Only Smart Fertilizers can match the demands of the crop at each stage of its growth. Nano fertilizers and slow-release fertilizers have no such mechanism. They are applied one-time, similar to conventional fertilizers. One-time application results in overdosing at the initial stage with nothing there at the later stages when the nutrient demand is at its peak. With slow-release fertilizers, matching of crop needs with fertilizer release rates requires tailoring the product to each crop in each type of soil.

* Neither slow-release fertilizers nor nano fertilizers have been used commercially for food crops. The benefit-to-cost ratio does not warrant their use for any mass scale agricultural product. Only Smart Fertilizers have a high benefit-to-cost ratio that has been proven for common, mass produced food crops.

* Finally, only Smart Fertilizers have the three Es – Efficient, Environment-friendly and Economical. This is unmatched by any other fertilizer

In conclusion

The use of Smart Fertilizers will improve health benefits for people and farming communities, deliver better ROI for farmers, deliver high-quality crops with the full range of nutrients, and no adverse impact on the environment. Further, Smart Fertilizers can be locally produced, for the Sri Lankan market and for export, with a net positive impact on foreign exchange requirements. Smart Fertilizers can be a very useful solution to the present fertilizer crisis in Sri Lanka.

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