Fertilisation with nitrogen, a precision alternative for more efficient crops
- The NEIKER technology centre is working on precision fertilisation techniques to improve efficiency in agricultural production
- The benefits of precision nitrogen fertilisation covers both economic profitability when growing crops, and a reduction of the environmental impact caused by the fertiliser
- We have been able to reduce the use of nitrogen fertilisers by 19%, by adapting the application to the needs of the crop using the technique of variable fertiliser dosing
- At NEIKER we are developing various lines of work so that agriculture 4.0 can contribute to the qualitative leap that the agriculture and livestock sector needs
If the plots are not homogenous and, depending on the soil properties and the weather conditions, the crop behaviour is variable, instead of doing it uniformly like it has always been done, why not give each plot what it needs? Innovation, the application of new technologies and the incorporation of digital tools into agriculture is helping farmers use their crops, as well as in the mitigation of climate change faced by the planet. This is called precision agriculture and it is changing the paradigm of agriculture as it has been understood to date. And it is through NEIKER that we are developing various lines of work so that agriculture 4.0 can contribute to the qualitative leap that the agriculture and livestock sector needs, aware that technology has advanced in recent years and that its correct implementation can be extremely profitable for the sector.
In this context, at NEIKER we work with different technologies in the field of precision agriculture, a concept based on gathering, processing and analysing different data to improve decision-making and thus help increase crop sustainability. Specifically, precision fertilisation seeks to provide nutrients by fertilising based on maps drawn up from the information on the plots obtained from different sensors (drones, satellites, etc.) and the knowledge of farmers and technical advisors. Thus, it takes into account the specific needs of each area to achieve a more efficient fertilisation.
Rational nitrogen fertilising is one of the strategic lines to which the technology centre is committed. Within this field of work, there are a number of factors to consider to be able to optimise the fertilisation. For example, it must be taken into account that nitrogen is one of the nutrients that wheat, barley and potato crops most draw from the ground. So although the amount of this chemical element needed to obtain optimum yield of each crop is different, it is essential to provide extra nitrogen externally in the form of fertilisers for the agricultural operations to be cost-effective.
Innovation in fertiliser
There are various benefits to this type of fertiliser, from the point of view of both farmers and the environment. This technique makes it possible to apply an amount of nitrogen adapted to the crop’s needs to increase profitability and reduce nutrient losses, thus avoiding environmental problems arising due to excessive fertilising.
At NEIKER’s Plant Protection and Production Department we are researching new precision agriculture techniques to improve crop yield predictions.
In this type of technique it is essential to know and study the various factors that affect the crops, such as the characteristics of the soil where they are grown, as this is a determining factor for growth and yield of a crop. Thus the most rational use possible of fertilisers can be achieved.
Thus, “if an area of a plot produces less because the soil has a lower water-retention capacity, or because it is flooded for long periods, we must take this into account and provide a smaller amount of nutrients, because the needs will also be lower”, specifies Ana Aizpurua, researcher from the department.
Reduction of fertiliser use in cereal production
A practical example of this type of nitrogen fertilisation is that implemented within the framework of the NITRALDA project, which aims to reduce the use of fertilisers in cereal-growing and in which NEIKER plays an important role by drawing up the nitrogen fertilising prescription maps used in the tests.
“We started to implement precision fertilisation on the farms in a pilot test in Alava and I think it was a very positive experience” explains Aizpurua. Thanks to the project, we have been able to reduce the use of nitrogen fertilisers by 19%, by adapting the application to the needs of the crop using the technique of variable fertiliser dosing.
In addition to NEIKER, the farmers Javier Álava and the Torre brothers have participates, along with the entities GARLAN S. Coop., Unión Agroganadera de Alava (UAGA) and HAZI Fundazioa. It has also had funding from the Basque Government’s Department of Economic Development, Sustainability and Environment.