Agriculture 4.0 can make it possible to reduce the use of fertilizers and thus nitrates in the soil - that is, production costs and the environmental footprint of crops - thanks to a technological solution developed in Israel by the startup DOTS (Data of the soil). (1)
The optimization of consumption is based on a simple logic, knowing in real time the nutrient needs of the soil to avoid the use of input unnecessary farms. Because too much costs, pollutes groundwater, increases greenhouse gas emissions.
1) Nitrates in soils, the European emergency
Soil poisoning and water containing nitrates is a problem that Europe has been trying to tackle for over thirty years with Directive 1991/676/EEC. (2) The Nitrates Directive established a contamination threshold, 50 mg/l, above which groundwater is classified as 'polluted by nitrates' and the areas of land that discharge directly or indirectly into such waters are 'vulnerable'.
The levels of contamination of groundwater and surface water from nitrates, however, have not recorded the regressions that it would have been logical to expect. The emergency is therefore still ongoing, as shown by the data collected and processed by the EEA (European Environmental Agency). (3) EU strategies Farm to Fork e Biodiversity 2030 have therefore indicated the objective of reducing the use of nitrogenous fertilizers by no less than 20%. (4)
2) Nitrate pollution, eutrophication and cyanotoxins
Nitrate pollution it also triggers the phenomenon of eutrophication, which currently affects 40% of lakes and water basins worldwide. The excessive quantities of nitrogen and phosphorus stimulate the multiplication of cyanobacteria, which give the waters an intense green color, as well as forming surface foams.
Eutrophication it is closely related to anthropic activities (civil and industrial waste, breeding and agricultural activities with abuse of nitrogenous fertilizers). And it can compromise the potability of the water, its bathing use and its reuse in agriculture, due to the formation of cyanotoxins which are dangerous to health.
3) The solution from Israel, Data of the soils (DOTS)
The solution developed in Israel by the startup DOTS, it uses the homonymous technology, already protected by four industrial patents:
– an electronic optical sensor controls the level of nutrients in the water taken from the soil, using spectro-photometry,
– the system collects other data (eg. cultivate, temperature and humidity, weather forecast),
- AI (Artificial Intelligence) processes information to indicate to farmers the optimal fertilization cycles.
4) Significant savings of fertilizers
Applications of the DOTS system in Israeli greenhouses have already demonstrated 30% fertilizer savings during the tomato growing season, with no reduction in yields. Reducing the use of nitrogenous fertilizers is therefore possible, thanks to completely new and effective research and innovation.
Opportunities development and large-scale use of unconventional fertilizers – such as those based on algae (6,7) and microorganisms (8) – deserve equal attention, in order to tackle the nitrate pollution emergency at a systemic level and achieve further agro-ecological benefits.
Dario Dongo and Giulia Pietrollini
(1) DOTS https://dotsoil.com/
(2) Directive 91/676/EEC relating to the protection of waters against pollution caused by nitrates from agricultural sources. https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/IT/LSU/?uri=CELEX:31991L0676
(3) EEA. European Environmental Agency. Waterbase-Water Quality ICM. 2022 https://www.eea.europa.eu/data-and-maps/data/waterbase-water-quality-icm-2
(4) Donato Ferrucci and Dario Dongo. Nutrition of soils and crops, the integrated action plan in the EU. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 10.7.22
(5) Giulia Pietrollini. Implementation of EU directive 2020/2184 on the management of drinking water. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 31.3.23
(6) Dario Dongo and Andrea Adelmo Della Penna. Animal husbandry, algae and microalgae to prevent the use of antibiotics. Algatan. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 9.9.20
(7) Dario Dongo and Alessandra Mei. Microalgae in agriculture, aquaculture, upcycling of wastewater and greenhouse gases. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 18.2.23
(8) Giulia Pietrollini. Biofertilizers to fight climate change. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 1.4.23