The Future of Maximizing Yields: Combining Research and Big Data to Optimize Fertilization
With a rapidly growing population, humanity is facing the challenge of how to feed itself in a sustainable way. Precise fertilization is key to maximizing yields, but in order to accomplish that on such a large scale, agriculture has to get way more technical.
The rapid growth rate of world’s population presents tremendous challenges for humanity, the biggest of which is how to sustainably feed the world. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that agricultural production will have to increase by around 60 per cent by 2050 to feed the planet. To meet this challenge, however, the way we do agriculture must change substantially. Farming has to optimize, and to do that, it must get more technical.
As always, farmers deal with many uncertainties and risks like weather changes, input prices, incidence of pests and disease, equipment failures, and fluctuations in market prices on a daily basis. They also have to make significant decisions each day. However, these decisions can be a risk themselves because most farmers cannot accurately predict what impact they will have on the resulting crop yields.
So, to minimize the risks involved in farming, farmers must make better-informed decisions. In order to make better-informed decisions, farmers must efficiently control the management practices that are in their hands. This depends on accurate data analysis.
The precise use of fertilizers contributes to an increase in crop yields more than any other technique. However, to maximize crop yields and prevent nutrient losses to soil, water, and air, fertilizers must be applied more efficiently. Currently, the misuse of fertilizers is a global phenomenon due to the complexity of finding the optimal fertilization range. Many farmers still rely on trial and error, guesswork, and estimation. The result is crops that do not meet their yield potential, and increased environmental pollution.
Knowing the exact fertilizer rate is a science and requires a thorough analysis of multiple factors. In fact, farmers often have to consider hundreds of dynamic parameters, such as crop nutrient uptake rates, research data, soil chemical, physical and biological properties, weather, water composition, soil testing methods, irrigation techniques, fertilizer characteristics, and interactions between fertilizers.
Processing these large data sets to continuously return sustainable fertilizer recommendations requires skills, vast knowledge, and access to agricultural research and databases.
However, research results and scientific publications are often not readily available to farmers. When they are available, data is often difficult to read, partial (for instance, it refers to only one nutrient), or does not fit the farmer’s specific field conditions. What’s more, research data is often not consistent.
Data obtained from one research paper is different than the data obtained from another. As such, an enormous amount of research results and data must be compared and analyzed to obtain a reliable knowledgebase. Evidently, without precision ag technologies, this is an impossible task
The Technological Revolution of Big Data
Big data analytics of agricultural research results and actual, historical field data creates a continuously updated, reliable knowledgebase. This can revolutionize the way farmers make daily decisions. It can help farmers sustainably increase crop yields, save money and time, and take the right decision time after time.
To take advantage of this data revolution, however, farmers need to have direct access to cloud-based decision-making tools. These translate the huge amounts of data and analytics into best practices and actionable information. Thankfully, in contrast to most other tools in agriculture, software algorithms and data analytics do not require any hardware installation. Ideally, they should easy integrate with any external source of data, such as sensors, drones, and machinery.
Fertilizer optimization, based on big data analytics, help farmers maximize crop yields in the most efficient and economical way. Not only does the farmer gets access to an easy-to-use interface that eliminates the guesswork and minimizes the uncertainties involved in making fertilizer management decisions, but the software also provides projections, alerts and reports. It’s just a bonus that the software works on any device, including laptops, smart phones, and tablets.