ICT (Information and Communication Technology) and DSS (Decision support systems) as a sustainable strategy to increase crop yields and reduce environmental pollution
World population is expected to grow by over a third by 2050. This means that market demand for food will continue to grow.
Projections show that feeding a world population of 9.1 billion people in 2050 would require raising overall food production by some 70 percent (Fig.1) in order to feed the world. Production in the developing countries would need to almost double.
In recent years, yield growth rates have slowed down notably in many countries and for major crops.
Figure 1: Projected gap between current food productivity growth and needed growth
There are many reasons why yield gaps exist. This may be explained by numerous factors, including lack of access to information, extension services and technical skills.
Fertilizers are a crucial input driving global food production. There is a strikingly clear correlation between increased production and broader use of fertilizers (FAO/IFDC data, 2012).
However, excessive fertilizer use results in negative environmental impacts and loss of yields (Fig. 2).
Although chemical fertilizers are needed to increase food production, serious environmental impacts are occurring in countries with a high level of fertilizer use, as the result of excess applications of fertilizers.
Figure 2: Effect of fertilizer use on crop yields
The broad misuse of fertilizers is a global phenomenon which results in decreased yields, fertilizer waste, and damage to soil and groundwater contamination.
Currently, most farmers rely on guesswork, estimation and past experience when deciding on fertilizer applications rates and scheduling.
Farmers are generally afraid of a yield reduction if they apply less fertilizer. In practice, excessive fertilizer use tends to result in yield losses, rather than the maximum yield.
As mentioned above, more efficient and sustainable production methods must be adopted.
However, spreading knowledge, skills and technology is one of the major challenges.
Greater priority has to be given to agricultural research, development and extension services in order to achieve the required yield and productivity gains.
Increased investment, effective regulation and incentives are also needed for sustainable, stable production growth and in order bring to the rural population win-win solutions that will help them to improve the sustainability of ecosystems and improve their income.
In addition, the aim should be to stop over-exploitation, degradation and pollution and increase crop-production efficiency.
Policies, which will lead to the next generation of farmers to become knowledgeable, need to be developed.
Apart from extension services, information and communication technologies (ICTs) are very effective tools for knowledge dissemination.
SMART Fertilizer Management is a unique web-based platform for optimizing fertilizer use in agriculture, enabling farmers to increase crop yields and become more profitable, while taking their part in protecting the environment.
The platform enables growers to manage fertilizer utilization under any farming conditions and at an affordable cost.
Smart is the first company that brings science to fertilizer management and wraps it up in an easy to use platform.
The software is structured to serve a wide range of users, from small farmers to large agricultural institutions, governmental authorities, universities and soil/plant laboratories.
Using the SMART! Fertilizer Management platform farmers can dramatically increase their efficiency and profitability.
The user enters his specifications and requirements into the software, such as soil data, water quality and crop information. The software platform then processes the information and instantly returns a precise and optimal fertilization program.
The SaaS (cloud) model allows for a centralized knowledge base.
The constantly growing know-how and data, accumulated in the system as a result of users’ inputs, local knowledge, academic research etc. is instantly accessible to any user (farmers/agronomists/researchers etc.), from anywhere in the world.
This knowledge base is being further analyzed to continuously improve fertilizer use and crop yields world-wide.