Nitrogen Fertilizer Optimization Technologies Promoting Sustainable Agriculture

Posted: 2014-07-14 Deadline to Receive Proposals: 2014-09-08

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Innovation Need

The challenge to increase food production in an economically viable way while retaining the ecological integrity of food systems is the underlying aim of sustainable agriculture. In-field application of nitrogen fertilizer is one target for improvements that enable growers to meet this challenge, in particular, focusing on technologies that improve efficiency of nitrogen use while enhancing productivity, thereby limiting nitrogen loss to the environment through release of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas, and/or nitrogen run-off in water systems. We seek best practices in nitrogen fertilization technologies to minimize the loss of nitrogen from the field while increasing yield. General Mills, a 17+ billion dollar food company, has the following need: Seeking best practices in nitrogen fertilization (nitrogen optimization) technologies for sustainable agriculture. There is an immediate connection between applying the right nutrient source, at the right rate, right timing, and right placements, (4Rs philosophy of nutrient management) and beneficial impacts on natural capital as demonstrated through better crop performance, improved soil health, decreased environmental pollution, and the protection of wildlife. Simultaneously, positive effects are expected on financial capital, as farmer profits improve. We are interested in commercially available, proven, ready-to-use nitrogen optimization technologies that enable improved and targeted uptake of nitrogen when and where it is needed by the crop in the field. The farmer, the manager of the land, is the final decision‑maker in selecting the practices—suited to local site‑specific soil, weather, and crop production conditions, and local regulations—that have the highest probability of meeting the goals; hence, solutions to this challenge should be directed at implementation on a farm-by-farm basis. The potential approaches to address nitrogen loss mentioned below are not meant to be exhaustive or prescriptive. Possible approaches might include: • Controlled input and uptake technologies • Bioagriculture practices leveraging emerging agronomic science • Precision agriculture equipment technologies • Data driven decision support mechanisms One way to mitigate nitrogen loss is through technologies that control the release of nitrogen from the fertilizer post application to enhance uptake at the right time in and in the right amount. This could be achieved through encapsulated or controlled release fertilizer. Examples of this include a farmer applying a nitrification inhibitor with fall nitrogen to provide confidence that the crop will receive the right amount of nitrogen necessary for growth in early spring as the warmer temperatures trigger its release. Or, the farmer could apply a polymer coated fertilizer product in the spring to delay nitrogen release closer to a crops significant growth stage. Another approach is through biological agriculture management practices. These methods are based on agronomic science and knowledge of soil fertility conditions. For example, farmers could conduct soil testing to determine mineral content levels, and through tight rotations of multiple cover crops and manures enhance the overall soil and microbial health necessary for biochemical processes to occur, thereby promoting nitrogen uptake by the crop. In this way, the farmer manages the field ecosystem holistically improving chemical nutrient efficacy. Approaches may also be based on determining how much nitrogen the crop requires in coordination with placement and timing for enhanced crop productivity. This can be accomplished through precision agriculture delivery equipment systems that acquire data, such as field maps, to inform decision making in using variable rate application systems top apply nitrogen at the right place, in the right amount. We seek ready-to-use nitrogen optimization technologies that minimize the loss of nitrogen to the environment, increase production and nitrogen use efficiency in the field, and enhance sustainable agriculture. Specifically, our focus is on commercially available technologies that build upon or advance currently known technologies in the industry.

Possible Approaches

Commercially available and ready-to-use technologies: • Uncoated or coated controlled-release • Biological methods, practices or technologies promoting soil fertility health • Precision agriculture delivery systems to provide variable rate application • Data driven decision support mechanisms • Other new and novel commercially available technologies that advance current approaches in the market today

Criteria

• Environmental and economic balance; reduce negative environmental impact while improving farm profitability • Commercial proof of technology in application

Solutions Not of Interest

Solutions that deliver the nitrogen fertilizer via spraying from airplanes