When it comes to healthy roots, every crop needs:
- The right amount of water
- Balanced nutrients
- Absence of abiotic stress and
- The right amount of fertilisers
Fertilisers are important for crops because they provide nutrients to the plant and ensure higher yields and stronger plants as well. It is therefore interesting to look at different ways in which farmers are applying the right fertiliser to their fields.
By delivering the fertiliser directly to the root rather than limiting it to the soil, a farmer can maximise the benefits of the fertiliser in a smaller dosage. This is where nano-tech fertiliser is making its presence felt.
What is nano-tech fertiliser?
Let’s start by looking at nanomaterials - the European Commission defines nanomaterials as measuring 1-100 nanometers (a nanometer is one billionth of a metre). This is immensely small indeed! And now, visualise one such ‘nanocapsule’ getting packed with plant nutrients and being delivered directly to the roots. For sure, that’s targeted application to the most accurate degree possible!
Nano-tech fertiliser, therefore, is the method in which all necessary nutrients for the crop are packed into a nano-sized ‘container’ and delivered to the roots. This delivery mechanism can take place by:
- Packing the nutrients into nanotubes or
- Putting nutrients into super-thin polymer film layers or
- ‘Downsizing’ the nutrients themselves into nano-particles
The underlying principle of nano-tech fertiliser is both, the size and targeted delivery.
Why go nano?
‘Don’t feed the soil, feed the roots’ - this should make a very strong case for nano-tech fertiliser. When fertilisers are applied in large quantities to the soil or even to the leaves of a crop - there is a huge amount of wastage. Leaching, run-offs and even evaporation can contribute to this wastage.
By using nano-tech, the nutrients not only reach the roots directly but also contribute to:
- Improved photosynthesis
- Better yield
- Stronger resistance to diseases and
- Better growth of seedlings too
Almost every nutrient can be delivered through nano-tech. Potassium nitrate, phosphorus, magnesium, iron,calcium and micronutrients like manganese & zinc can be packed into highly porous nano-materials that help the nutrients permeate into the roots.
India and nano- fertilisers
One of the players in this space is IFFCO - the Indian Farmers Fertiliser Cooperative Limited. A couple or so years ago, IFFCO, the world’s largest fertiliser cooperative, announced trials for its nano products such as nano copper, nano nitrogen and nano zinc. These products held the promise of reducing use of chemical fertilisers by half and enhancing crop yield by at least 15%. This year, 2021, IFFCO announced the commercial production of liquid nano urea.
This nano-urea version is scheduled to replace around 13.7 million tonnes of conventional urea in the next few years. This is supported by trials which showed that farmers can cut down storage and input costs when they use nano-liquid urea. Next in line for nano-tech is Di-ammonium Phosphate (DAP) fertiliser.
It is interesting to know that no other agriculture related body has launched nano urea. IFFCO is the first in the world to do so! It should be extremely exciting to see how ‘small’ things can make a big difference to agriculture in India.