April 22, 2016
Every drop counts
The Yara ZIM-system consists of two little magnets clamped against each other onto the leaf.
His name is Aabid Surti and for some years now he’s been tramping the streets of Mumbai together with a plumber and a volunteer. Each day the 80-year-old author and his partners choose an apartment block in the mega-city and knock on doors asking residents if they have a leaking tap in their home (external link).
To many, his efforts are futile. But a tap dripping once per second loses 1,000 liters per month, and over the years Surti estimates that he’s saved 10 million liters of water.
Although he isn’t a Yara employee, Surti would surely approve of Yara’s aim to optimize water usage in agriculture.
Agriculture accounts for 70 percent of freshwater use worldwide. Greater food demand, driven by a rising world population, will put further strain on water resources.
This means the industry will have to learn to produce more food with less water.
More crop per drop
Yara is developing a series of approaches that optimize the use of water in agriculture. The aim is to do this while maximizing productivity and minimizing the negative environmental impact of overusing fertilizers.
Scientists at Yara’s research center for crop nutrition in Hanninghof, Germany, have concluded that optimal nutrient supply in the cropping system not only boosts yield but also helps plants make the most of their water supply – meaning that farmers get more crop per drop.
Applying the right amounts of fertilizer reduces water loss, particularly bare soil evaporation loss, and the risk of nutrient leaching, which is good for the ecosystem.
The idea of using sensors to assess crop water status is not new, but current methods are impractical. Yara’s engineers have taken this concept a step further with the development of the ZIM-Probe, a non-destructive, automatic tool that continuously monitors changes in leaf turgor pressure.
Farmers have nearly real-time access to the Yara ZIM signals and the recommended irrigation levels from a remote computer or a smartphone.
This enables them to apply water-saving irrigation strategies tailored to the crop’s needs, while avoiding hydric stress, which reduces productivity.
The technology is particularly important in drought-prone areas and on land affected by soil degradation, which is 52 percent of arable land according to a UNCCD report.
The Yara ZIM-system can now be used for olives and citrus and other crops like grapevine and coffee will soon be added.
The ZIM sensor solution will help farmers save water and energy, reduce their carbon footprints, and sustain maximum yield.
Yara’s scientists are also working on solutions that combine atmospheric conditions with mathematical models, to gather insights into the dynamics of the cropping system. While a sophisticated system is still some years down the road, it’s part of Yara’s commitment to provide better insight as to the nutrition and irrigation needs of farmers’ crops.
In the future, such solutions will help optimize the supply of nutrients and water to the crop and achieve greater yields with less water. In Mr. Surti’s world, this would be tantamount to predicting the leakages before they even occur.