The increased mass crop cultivation for biofuel, as well as the world’s demand for more protein, particularly in the form of meat, have contributed to the challenge’s complexity. A 60 percent increase in agricultural production will be required, with 90 percent of the increase coming from improving production efficiency and intensity. Because 50 percent of the world is now fed on food from fertilized areas, improving output will require a better understanding and control of plant nutrition as a fundamental goal.
“As long as agriculture remains a soil-based business, large advances in productivity are unlikely to be achieved without ensuring that plants have an appropriate and balanced source of nutrients,” as Per Pinstrup Anderson, then Director-General of the International Food Policy Research Institute (FPRI), expressed it in 2000.
Between 1960 and 2020, the world’s population will have tripled, but available agricultural land will have halved. To compound the problem, even though maize output has been steadily increasing at 120 kg per hectare per year, world per capita cereal production has remained unchanged. It fell from 374 kg per capita in 1985 to 340 kg per capita in 2007. (Figures 1 and 2).
In recent years, a new component has emerged: the notion of farming for health, which aims to promote human health as well as yield, soil fertility, profitability, and environmental effect. Not only is food security (kilojoules) the new goal, but also nutrition security (supply of all essential nutrients).
In an African context, it’s paradoxical that Sub-Saharan Africa, which is seen as the foundation for future greater food production (some estimate that this continent would account for 70% of global growth), utilizes only around 6 kg of fertilizer per acre on average and is considered as having the most physical and economic water constraint.
A fertilizer firm must position itself proactively and pledge to invest in plant nutrition and agricultural research to address these difficulties, as well as acquire and sustain a competitive edge in a severe commercial international environment by providing practical terms on the farm. To address the aforementioned difficulties, Omnia Fertilizer invests around 30 million Rand (ZAR) each year in plant nutrition research. The key study topics linked to plant nutrition requirements for the foreseeable future, as indicated by international agencies and Omnia Fertilizer, will be briefly discussed in the subsequent paragraphs, with special reference to grain crops.
Efficient water usage
International studies have identified increased water usage efficiency as the most important factor in improving food output. Nitrates, for example, are a type of fertilizer that improves water efficiency. Correct fertilizer management also improves crop water usage efficiency. For example, effective pasture fertilization may reduce the amount of water required to produce one unit of beef by half.
The flip side of the coin is that good irrigation and soil moisture management improve fertilizer utilization efficiency significantly.
Efficiency in the utilization of nutrients, particularly nitrogen
Nutrient utilization efficiency, particularly nitrogen, is the second most significant element coming from worldwide publications to make a difference in food production. On commercial farms in wealthy nations, nitrogen usage efficiency has been demonstrated to be about 40%, although field studies in the same countries have revealed that efficiency rates of more than 80% are achievable. Ohio State University in the United States discovered that applying greater potassium levels than the industry standard increased nitrogen utilization efficiency in maize from 45 percent to 80 percent. The effectiveness of nitrogen utilization on maize has been demonstrated in the United States, with 70 kg of maize grain produced per kilogram of nitrogen (Figure 3). In South Africa, Omnia Fertilizer experiments have shown that utilizing the differential application, it is feasible to generate 113 kg of maize grain per kilogram of nitrogen applied on sandy soil.
It is evident that there is no silver bullet when it comes to nitrogen management, but an integrated strategy that takes into account a variety of elements should be followed.
Best methods in management and a well-balanced nutrition
The 4R strategy, which means using the appropriate product at the right rate, time, and location, is the foundation of this age-old yet still-developing field of study. Solid prior practices, such as a properly balanced diet and liming programs, must be built upon (Figure 4), but more nutritional factors and their interactions must be studied than previously. For example, there are now 17 components officially recognized as required for plant nourishment. The well-known list has been expanded to include chloride and nickel. There are also the so-called helpful factors to take into consideration: aluminum, cobalt, sodium, selenium, and silicon. New cultivars designed for drought resistance and increased nitrogen usage efficiency, for example, will become more dominant and will require specific nutritional care.
Nutrition practices for conservation cultivation systems
Good management involves the use of crop rotations and soil protection measures, the incorporation of organic matter into the soil, and the appropriate use of chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and farm machinery, all of which are linked to the preceding point.
Whatever conservation tillage approach is used – restricted tillage, strip-till, pure no-till, or direct sowing – the foundation of appropriate plant nutrition or soil fertility must be established, with the imperative requirement of addressing any conceivable soil physical limits. Defining and maintaining such fertility thresholds in various crop rotation situations is a serious task.
It’s also crucial to understand the dynamics and efficiency of nutrients in expanded mulch and waste systems.
Farming precision and risk management
Precision agriculture technology is progressing at a breakneck speed. In most situations, even the most basic comprehension and usage of this technology, much alone its application, is lacking. Zone management for soil fertility, for example, should follow zone identification based on soil physical properties, water holding capacity, and drainage. More complications arise from precise and variable rate application of ameliorants, fertilizer, and seed. The most difficult issue at hand is to manage and make the best use of massive databases, or “big data,” to make a genuine impact at the farm field level. It will be critical to use the spatial interpretation of such linked datasets with geographic information systems to detect and quantify danger, not just in terms of plant nutrition. Proximal and distant sensing are also rapidly evolving. On the nanotechnology front, new sensors (including nutrients) are coming, and they will be incorporated into precision agricultural systems.
Environmental effect and product efficiency
From the plant to the field, every fertilizer firm will have to improve its production efficiency to meet the new challenges. Slow and controlled release fertilizers, stabilized fertilizers, trace element-supplemented fertilizers, and soluble / liquid fertilizers, according to international publications, will continue to be prioritized. With an increased focus on fertilizer environmental effect and water efficiency, nitrate-based fertilizers are receiving increasing attention. For example, it is well known that ammonium nitrate has a 25% lower impact on greenhouse gas output (CO2) per unit of nitrogen than urea and that nitrates significantly improve plant water usage efficiency (see below).
Biostimulants and elicitors
An elicitor is a chemical that causes a plant to develop a resistance and/or hypersensitive response. Elicitors can be specific nutrients (essential or helpful). Elicitors are proteins that trigger genes involved in a plant’s defensive response.
Agricultural biostimulants are various formulations of chemicals and other items that are applied to plants or soils to control and increase the physiological processes of the crop, hence increasing their efficiency. The most crucial point to remember is that crop bio-stimulation works in tandem with crop nutrition and crop protection. Understanding and using the above relatively new principles is critical as the worlds of plant nutrition, stimulants, and pesticides become more intertwined.
This is, without a doubt, the most misunderstood and misquoted technology currently under development.
In 1999, Nobel Laureate Richard Smalley spoke to the United States House Committee on Science about the advantages of nanotechnology. He stated that the influence of nanotechnology on population lives, wealth, and lifestyles will be at least as great as the cumulative effects of nanoelectronics, medical imaging, computer-aided engineering, and man-made polymers produced in the twentieth century.
Nanomaterials may aid in the regulated release of agrochemicals for nutrition and insect and pathogen protection, transfer of genetic material, sensitive detection of plant illness and pollutants, and the development of soil structure, according to the literature on nanotechnology’s involvement in plant and soil systems.
Understanding how nutrition, plant physiology, and soil microbes interact is so important.
This interesting new branch of molecular study opens up a plethora of possibilities and provides explanations for many field-observed events. Recent papers, for example, explain why sulfur nutrition of plants produces the plant hormones auxin and jasmonate, why nitrate feeding and iron acquisition are linked, as well as numerous hormones necessary for water management in plants, such as abscisic acid.
Acknowledging the rhizosphere’s interaction with soil microbial communities to enhance nutrient absorption and create particular hormones is also a part of this line of research.
Making an impact on the farm
Omnia Fertilizer’s goal is to use expertise to maximize its customers’ prosperity (lower risk and enhance marketable production and quality). It’s pointless to invest in such expertise if you don’t put it to use on the farm. Participation of producers, collaboration with other entities and disciplines, and, most importantly, technological transfer are all required. Omnia Fertilizer is now participating in interdisciplinary strip experiments with Grain SA as a co-worker and sponsor. Omnia Fertilizer aims to provide real-world information to South African farmers, as well as farmers in other Omnia-managed nations, by putting numerous feet on the ground and, perhaps, contributing in some tiny way to feeding the world of the future.