Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik has told agricultural industry and policy leaders that “green” technologies can significantly improve resource efficiency for finite natural resources like the phosphorus in fertiliser, an essential crop nutrient but also a leading water pollutant, mainly due to agricultural runoff.
One useful technological aid is a mobile optical sensor developed by the Yara global fertiliser company, which can measure crop nitrogen needs.
The Norway-based company says its tractor-mounted and handheld devices have been shown to cut fuel consumption and reduce fertiliser use, while boosting crop yields.
The tractor-mounted devices cost upwards of €35,000, while devices slightly bulkier than a mobile phone cost around €2,000.
The handheld device pays for itself in a couple of years through reduced fertiliser and fuel use, according to the company.
This and other evolving technologies that cut plant nutrient and pesticide use could help address what the European Environment Agency has identified as a leading pollution threat in Europe — excess chemicals from farming.
Research is ongoing into other useful technologies, such as drought-resistant seeds, handheld sensors using nanotechnology to detect even tiny amounts of contamination of ground water, and water purification.
The Austrian laboratories of the International Atomic Energy Agency are using nuclear techniques to monitor groundwater levels and to develop nuclear micro sensors to improve the efficiency of irrigation.