Of the many nutrients that plants need, nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) (collectively called primary nutrients and often abbreviated as NPK) are considered crucial. For good crop yield, soil should contain sufficient amounts of these nutrients in the right proportions. Any deviation from the desired NPK ratio should be corrected using organic or inorganic fertilizer, but in order to ensure balanced use, fertilizer should be applied only after a soil test.
Though fertilizer usage is common in India, a host of factors, including lack of awareness and inadequate testing capacity, has resulted in a situation where only a tiny fraction of the 140 million farm holdings are soil tested. Further, a majority of those that get their soil tested do not base their fertilizer usage on test reports. As a result, improper fertilization is widespread, which not only threatens soil fertility and crop yields, but also increases input costs for a resource-constrained farmer.
The aim of our project is to develop a soil diagnostic system that is affordable, usable, and actionable. Our system has two components: 1) a point-of-use NPK sensor that enables on-farm soil testing and 2) a recommendation engine that provides targeted fertilizer advisory for nutrient management.
We are collaborating with the Deshpande Foundation, an NGO in rural Karnataka, for field trials, and with the Indian Agricultural Research Institute in Delhi for domain expertise. By focusing on developing a soil diagnostics system instead of just a sensor, we hope to close the loop and provide an end-to-end solution to the farmer.