A revolution is taking place in agriculture. The rising world population is reducing the amount of arable land for food production, making it necessary to find ways to cultivate poor soils. Growing crops in these challenging conditions is stimulating the demand for chelated micronutrients, which deliver essential metals and nutrients to plants.
But enriching poor agricultural soils is just the beginning of the story of micronutrients, which are particularly essential in hydroponic and soilless systems.
Hydroponics and urban growing are taking off
Because micronutrients are usually supplied to the crops in a liquid solution, they are also helping to fuel a growing trend towards hydroponics, or completely soilless culture. Hydroponics is already widely used in commercial greenhouses for growing crops such as tomatoes, cucumbers, strawberries and roses. It is also at the forefront of the social trend towards urban farming and the development of urban green spaces, such as vertical gardens.
Micronutrients are powerful, and they have more of an impact on your life than you might realize. Not only are they capable of nourishing the crops you consume, but they are also able to help revitalize cities.
Like in Quito, Ecuador, during the Habitat III Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, where a showcase took place to make the local people’s lives more liveable and inspiring. A vertical garden was created, using a hydroponic system and our micronutrients, to transform a bleak expanse of concrete into a colorful and more attractive space.
How do micronutrients work?
Micronutrients deliver essential nutrients to plants in a liquid solution. Plants require 15 essential elements to grow. The three main ones – oxygen, carbon and hydrogen – are absorbed from the atmosphere, while the others are taken up through the roots. Six of those – iron, zinc, manganese, copper, boron and molybdenum – are referred to as trace elements, since they are required only in small quantities. Fertilizers based on these trace elements are called micronutrients.
At the core of a micronutrient system are chelating agents, claw-like organic molecular structures that can tightly “grip” the metal ions. Metal chelates are soluble in water and are readily absorbed by plants, making them the method of choice for delivering trace elements to plants.
Choosing the correct chelate is important, as in the case of iron chelates. When pH values exceed a certain amount, other metals like calcium and copper replace the iron ion bound to the chelate. The iron ions that are displaced from the chelate are not soluble at higher pH levels and precipitate into a form that plants cannot use. That’s why the choice of chelates is critical – to ensure the right delivery of micronutrients to the crop.
Preparing for the future
AkzoNobel is currently the market leader in micronutrients. We have been raising our capacity to keep pace with the market, which analysts say is growing at around 5% per year. The company has just announced a further investment of more than €10 million to expand capacity for high-performance iron chelates at its plant in Kvarntorp, Sweden. The company also has micronutrients plants in the Netherlands and the US.
As well as supporting growth in the market, our focus on micronutrients underlines our commitment to sustainability and our Human Cities initiative by helping to increase agricultural yields in regions with poor soil conditions while also supporting the growing trend towards hydroponic agriculture and urban farming.