Use of Nanotechnology in Agriculture || Application

In this article, we will explore the use of nanotechnology in agriculture. There are various sectors using nanotechnology in agriculture, some application of nanotechnology in agriculture are tillage, plant protection, seed science, fertilizers, irrigation, and weed management.

Nanotechnology is a process that builds controls and restructures that are the size of atoms and molecules.

Nanotechnology is now an emerging and fast-growing field of science that is being exploited over a wide range of scientific disciplines including Agriculture. A smarter way for sustainable agriculture appears to be nanotechnology.

Use of Nanotechnology in Agriculture are:

In agriculture, nanotechnology is widely used in tillage operations, plant protection, fertilizer application, irrigation, and weed management. 

There are many uses of nanotechnology in agriculture that are described as given below.  

1. Use of Nanotechnology in tillage:

  • Mechanical tillage practices improve soil structure and increase porosity leading to better distribution of soil aggregates and eventually modifying the physical properties of soil.
  • Nanomaterials usage increase soil pH and soil structure
  • It also reduces the mobility, availability, and toxicity of heavy metals besides reducing soil erosion
  • Nanoparticles in soil reduce cohesion and internal friction besides reducing the shear strength of the soil. Reduction in adhesion of soil particles allows easy crushing of lumps with less energy

2. Use of Nanotechnology in Seed Science:

  • Seed is nature’s nano-gift to man. It is a self-perpetuating biological entity that can survive in harsh environments on its own.
  • Nanotechnology can be used to harness the full potential of seeds.
  • Seed production is a tedious process, especially in wind-pollinated crops.
  • Detecting pollen load that will cause contamination is a sure method to ensure genetic purity.
  • Pollen flight is determined by air temperature, humidity, wind velocity, and pollen production of the crop.
  • The use of nano biosensors specific to contaminating pollen can help alert the possible contamination and thus reduce contamination.
  • The same method can also be used to prevent pollen from Genetically, modified crops from contaminating field crops.
  • Novel genes are being incorporated into /seeds and sold in the market.
  • Tracking of sold seeds could be done with the help of nano barcodes that are encodable, machine-readable, durable, and sub-micron-sized taggants.
  • Disease spreads through seeds and many times stored seeds are killed by pathogens.
  • Nano-coating of seeds using elemental forms of Zn, Mn, Pa, Pt, Au, and Ag will not only protect seeds but be used in far fewer quantities than done today.
  • Technologies such as encapsulation and controlled release methods have revolutionized the use of pesticides and herbicides. Seeds can also be imbibed with nano encapsulations with specific bacterial strains termed Smart Seeds.
  • It will thus reduce seed rate, ensure the right field stand, and improve crop performance.
  • A smart seed can be programmed to germinate when adequate moisture is available.
  • Coating seeds with a nanomembrane, which senses the availability of water and allows seeds to imbibe only when the time is right for germination, aerial broadcasting of seeds embedded with magnetic particles, detecting the moisture content during storage to take appropriate measures to reduce the damage and use of bioanalytical nanosensors to determine aging of seeds are some possible thrust areas of research.
  • Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) can also be used as new pores for water permeation by penetration of the seed coat and act as a passage to channel the water from the substrate into the seeds. These processes facilitate germination which can be exploited in rainfed agricultural systems.

3. Use of Nanotechnology in Water Use:

  • Water purification using nanotechnology exploits nanoscopic materials such as carbon nanotubes and alumina filters for nanofiltration.
  • It utilizes the existence of nanoscopic pores in zeolite filtration membranes. nanocatalysts and magnetic nanoparticles.
  • Carbon nanotube membranes and Nanofibrous alumina filters can remove almost all kinds of water contaminants including turbidity, oil bacteria, viruses, and organic contaminants.

4. Use of Nanotechnology in Fertilizers:

  • Fertilizers have played a pivotal role in enhancing the food grain production in India.
  • Despite the resounding success in grain yield, it has been observed that yields of many crops have begun to stagnate as a consequence of imbalanced fertilization and a decline in the organic matter content of soils.
  • Excessive use of nitrogenous fertilizer affects the groundwater and also causes eutrophication in aquatic ecosystems.
  • A disturbing fact is that the fertilizer use efficiency is 20-50 percent for nitrogen and 10-25 percent for phosphorus.
  • Elimination of eutrophication and drinking water with the possible build-up of nutrients in the soil is possible only by adopting nano fertilizers an emerging alternative to conventional fertilizers
  • Additionally, nano-technology has improved nutrient use efficiency and minimized costs of environmental protection.
  • Slow release of nano-fertilizers and nanocomposites are excellent alternatives to soluble fertilizers. Nutrients are released at a slower rate throughout the crop growth; plants can take up most of the nutrients without any waste.
  • Slow release of nutrients in the environments could be achieved by using zeolites which are a group of naturally occurring minerals having a honeycomb-like layered crystal structure. Its network of interconnected tunnels and cages can be loaded with nitrogen and potassium, combined with other slowly dissolving ingredients containing phosphorous, calcium, and a complete suite of minor and trace nutrients. Zeolite acts as a reservoir for nutrients that are slowly released “on demand.”
  • Fertilizer particles can be coated with nanomembranes that facilitate slow and steady release of nutrients.
  • The Nano-composites being contemplated to supply all the nutrients in the right proportions through the “Smart” delivery systems also need to be examined closely.
  • Currently, the nutrient use efficiency is low due to the loss of 50-70% of the nitrogen supplied in conventional fertilizers.

In case you missed it: Precision Agriculture In India: Scope, Need & Advantages

5. Use of Nanotechnology in Plant Protection:

  • The persistence of pesticides in the initial stage of crop growth helps in bringing down the pest population below the economic threshold level and to have effective control for a longer period. Hence, the use of active ingredients in the applied surface remains one of the most cost-effective and versatile means of controlling insect pests.
  • To protect the active ingredient from adverse environmental conditions and to promote persistence, a nanotechnology approach, namely “nano-encapsulation” can be used to improve the insecticidal value.
  • Nanoencapsulation comprises nano-sized particles of the active ingredients being sealed by a thin-walled sac or shell (protective coating).
  • Nanoencapsulation of insecticides, fungicides, or nematicides will help in producing a formulation that offers effective control of pests while preventing the accumulation of residues in soil.
  • To protect the active ingredient from degradation and to increase persistence, a nanotechnology approach of “controlled release of the active ingredient” may be used to improve the effectiveness of the formulation which may greatly decrease the amount of pesticide input and associated environmental hazards.
  • Nano-pesticides will reduce the rate of application because the quantity of product being effective is at least 10-15 times smaller than that applied with classical formulations, hence a much smaller than the normal amount could be required to have much better and prolonged management.
  • Recently, clay nanotubes (halloysite) have been developed as carriers of pesticides at low cost, for extended-release and better contact with plants, and they will reduce the amount of pesticides by 70-80%, thereby reducing the cost of pesticide with minimum impact on water streams.

6. Use of Nanotechnology in Weed Management:

  • Multi-species approach with a single herbicide in the cropped environment resulted in poor control and herbicide resistance.
  • Continuous exposure to plant communities having mild susceptibility to herbicides in one season and different herbicides in other seasons develops resistance in due course and becomes uncontrollable through chemicals.
  • Developing a target-specific herbicide molecule encapsulated with nanoparticles is aimed at specific receptors in the roots of target weeds, which enter into the root system and are translocated to parts that inhibit glycolysis of food reserve in the root system. This will make the specific weed plant starve for food and get killed.
  • In rainfed areas, application of herbicides with insufficient soil moisture may lead to loss as vapour so controlled release of encapsulated herbicides is expected to take care of the competing weeds with crops. Nowadays, adjuvants for herbicide application are currently available that claim to include nanomaterials.
  • Excessive use of herbicides leaves residue in the soil and causes damage to the succeeding crops, continuous use of single herbicides leads to the evolution of herbicide-resistant weed species and a shift in weed flora.
  • For example, Atrazine, an s-triazine-ring herbicide, is used globally for the control of pre-and postemergence broadleaf and grassy weeds, which has high persistence (half-life-125 days) and mobility in some types of soils. Residual problems due to the application of atrazine herbicide pose a threat to the widespread use of herbicide and limit the choice of crops in rotation.
  • To remediate the atrazine residue from the soil within a short period, the application of silver modified with nanoparticles of magnetite stabilized with Carboxy Methyl Cellulose (CMC) nanoparticles recorded 88% degradation of herbicide atrazine residue under a controlled environment found to be a potential remedy.

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Applications of Nanotechnology in Agriculture

  • Increase productivity using nano-pesticides and nano-fertilizers
  • Improve the soil quality using nano-zeolites and hydrogels
  • Stimulate crop growth using nanomaterials
  • Provide smart monitoring using nanosensors by wireless communication devices

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