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Precision for Smallholder Farmers: A Small-Scale-Tailored Variable Rate Fertilizer Application Kit

Authors: Jelle Van Loon, Alicia B. Speratti and Bram Govaerts

Journal: Agriculture 2018, 8(4), 48

Publisher: MDPI AG

Precision agriculture technology at the hands of smallholder farmers in the developing world is often deemed far-fetched. Low-resource farmers, however, are the most susceptible to negative changes in the environment. Providing these farmers with the right tools to mitigate adversity and to gain greater control of the production process could unlock their potential and support rural communities to meet the increasing global food demand. In this study, a real-time variable rate fertilizer application system was developed and tested as an add-on kit to conventional farm machinery. In the context of low investment costs for smallholder farmers, high user-friendliness and easy installment were the main concerns for the system to be viable. The system used nitrogen (N)-sensors to assess the plant nutrient status on the spot and subsequently adjust the amount of fertilizer deposited according to the plant’s needs. Test bench trials showed that the add-on kit performed well with basic operations, but more precision is required. Variability between N-sensors and metering systems, combined with power fluctuations, created inaccuracies in the resulting application rate. Nevertheless, this work is a stepping stone towards catalyzing the elaboration of more cutting-edge precision solutions to support small-scale farmers to become successful, high producing agro-entrepreneurs.

Photo: Overview of the external components of the developed VRA-fertilizer kit, including (A) electric actuator piston; (B) control box; (C) 12V Battery; (D) Bluetooth transmitter; (E) magnetic calibration sensor; (F) N-sensor; (G) ON/OFF-switch. (credits: Jelle Van Loon, Alicia B. Speratti and Bram Govaerts)

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