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Combatting over-fertilisation by Aiste Baronaite-Lund, Vultus, Sweden

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armers around the world are using different organic or synthetic fertilisers in hopes to boost a healthy growth of their crops and, in turn, produce higher quality plants. However, the fertilisation process can be trickier than it seems. The misuse of fertilisers can cause the irrepearable damage or even death of some crops and create severe problems on a much larger scale. So what, in fact, are fertilisers? Well, fertiliser is a substance, that is used to provide plants with valuable nutrients. If used properly fertilisers can help farmers achieve the optimal health of the plant and increase the vegetation of their soils. However, the lack of tools and knowledge of how to properly fertilise the crops is common, and very problematic. When used in excess, these fertilisers can cause tremendous damage to the yield, the environment around us and even our health.

The problem affects us all

Many farmers are simply not properly equipped to precisely measure their crops health and, as such, they cannot exactly know how much of the nutrients their plants need. Therefore, they end up guesstimating the dosage of the critical input of the fertilisers and spreading them evenly across the fields. This practice typically results in the drastic misuse of the fertilisers, because the nutritious needs of the plants within those fields can vary significantly. 56 | March 2018 - Milling and Grain

This unbalanced nutrient dosage can severely damage or even kill the plants, as the excess amount of the fertilisers makes it very hard for the plants to absorb water. As a result, farmers often find that the crop quality within their fields is highly uneven, which in turn, makes it very difficult to harvest and ensure high quality of a product to a final consumer – all of us. Due to a lack of knowledge of how much nourishment different plants may need, over 60 percent of nitrogen fertiliser goes to waste. This waste leads to a yield loss of approximately five percent. However, it also creates bigger problems, which affect populations all around the world at a much larger scale. Over-fertilisation significantly contributes to environmental degradation, increases various risks for animal and human health and creates enormous costs not just for the individual farmers, but also nations worldwide. Farmers are, of course, aware of these issues. Although, existing methods that would enable them to adopt precision farming practices typically require them to spend extensive amounts of money and time, because in this case, farmers need to scout their fields manually.

Dangers of over-fertilisation

The damage that over-fertilisation causes is not limited just to the farmers’ fields – far from it. The misuse of these substances can have a major negative environmental impact. Nitrogen waste is especially dangerous for aquatic life. “When nitrogen, which is the primary agent in fertilisers,

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MAR 2018 - Milling and Grain magazine  

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