Nanotechnology in Agriculture: Feeding the Future

Nanotechnology in Agriculture: Feeding the Future

The world faces a challenge. The global population is increasing while climate change is applying stress to traditional farming.

The result? Food security and sustainable agriculture is facing a challenge the likes of which it has never faced before.

Failure to address it could result in catastrophe.

But developments in nanotechnology could be about to help ease the impending crisis.

Developments could see it improve crop yields without resorting to extensive land expansion or excessive use of agrichemicals. In addition to enabling more efficient resource management.

If it delivers, the rewards could be significant for investors and mankind alike.

According to a report by Insight Analytic, the global agricultural nanotechnology market size was valued at some USD321.1 billion in 2022. It is predicted to reach USD 868.98 billion by 2031. That’s delivering a CAGR of 11.94%.

The report said: “The development of the global market will be fuelled by the merger of improved agricultural techniques with nanotechnologies over the next five years.

“Additionally, the benefits can lower threats, including air and ground pollution, soil acidification, eutrophication [when a body of water is over fed nutrients from land run-off], declining soil fertility and biodiversity loss. With the global population’s growth, rising demand for crops with higher yields will further support the expansion of the industry.”

So just how does nano deliver better crops?

For example, nanoscale nutrient delivery systems can enhance plant nutrient absorption, improving growth and higher yields. These nanocarriers can protect nutrients from leaching or volatilisation [where a liquid chemical turns into vapour], ensuring that plants can efficiently utilise them.

Crucially, they can also reduce the amount required of water – an increasingly precious commodity in many parts of the world.

Privately-owned start-up Nanobubble Agritech provides integrated nanobubble technology solutions for the agricultural sector in New Zealand – where it is based – and Australia.

Nanobubble technology has been proven to improve plant growth, resistance to disease, and soil health and moisture retention.

What are nanobubbles? They are extremely small gas bubbles with several unique physical properties. These properties make them a superior aeration method for a number of applications around the world.

Explains the company – which is currently seeking its latest seed funding round: “Nanobubbles significantly improve water use efficiency in soil-based farming, essentially doubling the productive capacity of water; this is critical in markets where water availability is restricted - a major factor in almost every major growing country, and only being further exacerbated by climate change.

“Nanobubble technology means that for farmers in areas where water is being restricted, production levels can be maintained. In areas where water is freely available as an input, production can be increased.”

Fertilisers can be treated on a nanoscale to release their nutrients over a longer period – ensuring a greater benefit to the crops being treated.

Traditional pesticides can have adverse effects on the environment and human health. Nanopesticides offer a potential solution by improving the targeted delivery of pesticides and reducing their overall use.

Italian firm Nanomnia raised USD 400,000 through crowdfunding to propel itself into the space.

Working in cooperation with the Alma Mater University of Verona, it creates nanoparticles with “special and unique properties and functions”.

It explains: “Encapsulated compounds can be by their nature - composition, size, and surface electrical charge - more or less like cellular systems. For this reason we have chosen to produce particles with organic molecules with different chemical-physical properties, based on the characteristics of the compound to be encapsulated.

“Nanoparticles are made of organic polymers, biodegradable and biocompatible that create a shell around a nucleus of molecules of the active ingredient.”

In other words, they are fully organic, biodegradable, and microplastic-free.

Additionally, nanosensors integrated into the soil can provide real-time data on soil moisture, nutrient levels, and disease presence. This data-driven approach enables precise and targeted irrigation and fertilisation, minimising resource wastage and reducing environmental impacts.

What this application of methods on a nanoscale can achieve is significant. But there are challenges too.

Not only are there significant numbers of regulatory hurdles to leap, but concerns remain over the possible negative impact of the technology’s deployment.

In particular, fears persist over whether nanoproducts can pollute both soil and water after they have succeeded in their primary task.

And, as with any scientific adjustment to nature’s method of growing, there remains public anxiety over such changes – not to mention a reticence of some farming communities to employ the technology amid concerns over any future damage to their land and, consequently, their livelihood.

All will continue to ensure that nano-agri products are subject to significant checks and long-term monitoring.

All of this, of course, adds to R&D costs and delays widespread adoption.

Nanotechnology promises to transform global agriculture by addressing some of the key global challenges.

It could play no small role in feeding the future population if it succeeds.

Ongoing research in nanoscale pesticides, fertilisers, sensors, and imaging technologies further demonstrates the potential of nanotechnology in agriculture.

However, while it offers great benefits, carefully considering its regulatory and societal implications is essential.

Responsible development, thorough testing, and transparent communication are paramount to gain public acceptance and ensure its safe deployment.

Read the original article on Nano Magazine.