Inflation is on everyone’s minds and most of us have already felt its effects. Farmers especially have been hard hit with agricultural costs rising 10% on average. Fertilizer prices have experienced some of the biggest increases despite already being an average farm’s largest expense. In the past year, dry urea (nitrogen) alone has increased 140% to over $850 per ton. Pesticides and fungicides costs have also hit all-time highs, not to mention the rising costs of labor and other supplies needed to apply them.
It’s not just costs either, a recent study found 31% of farmers are having issues even getting fertilizer (Purdue Center for Commercial Agriculture Dec 2021). Farming is already a tight margin industry and some farmers have even been choosing not to grow this year because of costs.
Luckily, new advances in agricultural technology are empowering farmers to grow more efficiently using on-site sensors, diagnostics and data collection. These tools enable more informed and accurate decisions so farmers can grow more with less. Together, these tools and novel approach to farming are known as precision agriculture.
Rising costs are also made worse by inefficient use. Inaccurate nutrient estimates and the pursuit of higher yields have pushed fertilizer applications above what’s needed. A recent study found that many Michigan farms were using almost double the amount of manure they really needed (U Wisconsin Madison Extension).
In addition, just because you apply a nutrient input doesn’t mean a plant will uptake it all. There are specific pH ranges and interactions between nutrients that all regulate uptake. One study found that as little as half of applied nitrogen is taken up by plants even though it is in the soil.
Chemical treatments may also be being overused and applied to plants that don’t need it. A review between organic and non-organic strawberries concluded there were significant opportunities to reduce fungicide use while achieving comparable results.
Gathering and analyzing the past, present and future data is core to precision agriculture. Tracking inputs, the environment and results can generate actionable insights into crops. Rapid on-site diagnostics are the perfect tool to supply this data and importantly they do it in real time. Here are some of the on-site tools allowing us to grow more with less.
These rapid tests for both plants and soil provide a real-time picture of what’s present. Allowing farmers to precisely apply fertilizer and to ensure they are being taken up by the plants. Helping farmers use only what they need and improving outcomes. As an added benefit it can help guide growth of more nutritious and better tasting food.
Regular disease testing enables farmers to treat as needed and not waste time and money spraying if it isn’t needed. Over time, disease data can be used with nutrient and environmental data to make informed treatment decisions (Read How Plant Disease Works). Most farmers already know that it’s much cheaper to find and prevent disease. Tests can also be used to determine how well treatments are working, so money isn’t being spent on ineffective solutions.
Moisture sensors enable precise irrigation and water use. Advances in new tests may even allow for direct testing of plant moisture.
Test data produces the best results when it is collected and analyzed together. Then they can supply insights that might not be clear from just one test. It also allows for the integration of more data like weather.
Precision agriculture driven by rapid diagnostics can play a significant role in reducing inefficient input use. Not only saving farmers money but making sure our agricultural system is able to feed the entire world.
Cubed Labs is working on tools to gather and use the data to enable precision inputs. Rapid pathogen testing, on-site nutrient testing, soil testing, crop data management software.
Positive first results from N-Sight Trials Park City Utah (September 28, 2022) – Cubed Laboratories (Cubed) today announced significant results from the first