Researchers to explore nanotechnology for the agriculture sector

A team of researchers is to look into using nanotechnology in the agriculture sector, which could increase productivity and reduce environmental impacts.

The team from Lincoln University has secured a million-dollar grant from MBIE's Endeavour Fund.

Lincoln University Associate Professor, Craig Bunt, said his team would develop a groundbreaking nano-coating which could be applied to fertiliser to control its rate of release into soil, and to seeds to control their timing of germination.

"Controlling fertiliser rate of release is important because release that is too rapid can result in excessive nitrogen being lost into soil and waterways, causing significant pollution and other negative environmental impacts," he said.

"When nitrogen is lost to the soil, waterways, or atmosphere, farmers must apply more fertiliser to achieve desired results, which increases farming costs," said Professor Bunt.

A coated granule made as part of the team’s research.
A coated granule made as part of the team’s research. Photo credit: Supplied

The research would initially focus on understanding the science of the new polyester nano-coating and its biodegradation, then apply the technology for controlled release fertilisers and delayed seed germination in partnership with companies and organisations such as Ravensdown and the Foundation for Arable Research.

Professor Bunt said that while controlled-release fertilisers were currently available, they had significant limitations, including lack of robustness (reducing their effectiveness) and a high coating-to-fertiliser ratio.

"Our technology, using a novel, revolutionary coating, will solve these limitations."

He said it could also be applied to seeds to control the timing of germination.

"The benefits of delayed germination are manifold. For example, farmers could sow crops traditionally sown in autumn several months earlier, when weather conditions are more conducive to sowing.

"They could also sow two crops at once: one with uncoated seeds, and the other with coated seeds, to delay germination until after the first crop has matured or been harvested.

"Delayed germination could also allow farmers to control weeds that grow after sowing, so that the coated seeds germinate after weeds have been sprayed. This will increase crop yields because competition from weeds can be significantly reduced."

He described the technology as a specific solution that increases sustainability, enhances productivity, and for New Zealand will help improve yield and export revenue.

The project team members also include Dr Greg Walker (Otago University), and Dr Sally Price and Weiyi (Ivy) Liu, both from Lincoln University.

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