Fiesta del Arbol (Tree Festival), Spain. Marks the day in 1895 when King Alfonso planted a pine tree near Madrid. When trees and other plants need a nutrient boost — fertilizers can help.
For hardcore gardeners, the summer’s bounty starts in midwinter. Many folks, such as this Newscripts writer, already have little tomato and pepper seedlings unfolding their leaves on a bright windowsill, waiting for the soil outside to be warm enough to grow in. The soil, especially that of intensely cultivated commercial farms, often needs a little help to provide the nutrients plants need to grow—and that’s where fertilizers come in.
Fertilizers promote plant growth primarily by providing boosts of the much-needed macronutrients nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium to the plant, as well as other nutrients. But plants don’t get the chance to use more than half of the nutrients in fertilizer because the compounds escape via leaching, for example. But for the tech-savvy farmer or gardener, Nano-fertilizers could soon offer a solution to the nutrient-loss problem.
“The innovation level in fertilizers plateaued in the ’70s,” says Maria C. DeRosa, a chemist at Carleton University, in Ottawa. But her team is now giving the field a push. DeRosa and coworkers at Carleton and Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada, the country’s department of agriculture, are working on “designer” nanofertilizers that release nutrients as plants need them. “I think of fertilizer delivery like drug delivery—the soil is almost more complex than the human body,” DeRosa says. But in a letter urging effort to develop more advanced agriproducts, the team notes that nanotechnology is being underutilized for fertilizer development (Nat. Nanotechnol. 2010, 5, 91). For instance, DeRosa says, about 3% of pharmaceutical patents from 1998 to 2008 involve nanotechnologies versus less than 1% of fertilizer patents over the same period.
Visit Chemical & Engineering News to read more about nanofertilizers.
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