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Volume 2 Issue 12, December 2021

Point-of-use soil nitrogen sensor

Measurement of soil nitrogen is important for optimizing use of nitrogen fertilization and variable-rate fertilization, but is not performed regularly. Rather, farmers often rely on advice from governments, suppliers and peers when deciding the economically optimal amount of fertilizer to use for crop yields. Ensuing overuse of nitrogen fertilizer has negative environmental impacts, including chemically degraded arable land, eutrophication of surface water and apparent shifts in the make-up of microbial communities in soil. An electrical point-of-use sensor to determine soil NH4 + with a large dynamic range, costing less than US$0.10 per module, has been developed. Using data on soil dynamics from soil pot experiments conducted under eight sets of environmental conditions, a machine learning model was developed to predict the level of NO3 in soil instantaneously, and future levels of both NH4 + and NO3 . This work has the potential to inform growers of immediate soil nutrient needs and facilitate, with greater precision, future fertilization plans.

See Grell et al.

Image: Philip Coatsworth, Tarek Asfour and Fırat Güder, Imperial College London. Cover Design: Tulsi Voralia.


  • The ‘toxic cocktail’ of the COVID-19 pandemic, climate and conflict has slowed progress on nutrition. Where long-standing budgets for nutrition have been constrained in these times, broad stakeholder engagement and non-traditional approaches to nutrition financing are needed.



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Comment & Opinion

  • The transport of live animals across European Union (EU) member states indicates socio-economic benefits of moving animals instead of meat, in spite of animal welfare. In the revision of EU animal welfare legislation for farmed animals, socio-economic reasons for long-distance, cross-border live animal transport should be considered.

    • Coen van Wagenberg
    • Willy Baltussen
  • Start-ups are now the predominant source of innovation in all categories of food technology. Venture capital can accelerate innovation by enabling start-ups to pursue niche areas, iterate more rapidly and take more risks than larger companies, writes Samir Kaul.

    • Samir Kaul
    World View
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Research Highlights

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News & Views

  • Social disruption during the COVID-19 pandemic triggered highly varied changes in diet and lifestyle. It has offered a unique opportunity to study drivers of behaviour change in the general population, building the crucial evidence base needed to tackle major challenges for transforming food systems.

    • Pauline F. D. Scheelbeek
    News & Views
  • GWP* is an alternative emission metric that better represents the short-lived character of methane, but its application is not straightforward and can have a substantial impact on the design of mitigation policies in agriculture.

    • Jan Peter Lesschen
    News & Views
  • Coupling micro- and nanotechnology-based diagnostics devices with machine learning would bring advantages in the food and agriculture sectors that will positively impact our planet.

    • Arben Merkoçi
    News & Views
  • Armed conflicts have devastating humanitarian consequences, both direct and indirect. A crucial yet overlooked outcome is the disruption of local agricultural production and the consequent erosion of food security in war-ridden regions.

    • Tobias Kuemmerle
    • Matthias Baumann
    News & Views
  • An anticipatory life-cycle assessment of industrial-scale ovalbumin production using Trichoderma reesei culture indicates that this cellular agriculture approach could have lower global warming potential than ovalbumin purified from egg whites.

    • Deepti Diwan
    • Minaxi Sharma
    • Vijai Kumar Gupta
    News & Views
  • The merging of small farms into fewer large ones is a key part of China’s food security and rural revitalization strategy. Yet, the benefits of implementing large-scale farms vary under different land consolidation pathways.

    • Yuelai Lu
    News & Views
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  • Addressing trade-offs between the environment, health and inclusion in the quest for sustainable food systems requires integrated and coherent policies. This Perspective proposes a food systems transformation framework that brings these elements together and enables the design of concrete development pathways for food sustainability.

    • F. Gaupp
    • C. Ruggeri Laderchi
    • S. Fan
  • Unfed bivalve mariculture could fill the gap in demand for nutritious and sustainable seafood. This Review explores the bivalve value chain, examining how improved production practices and food processing could address consumer requirements for increased food safety and greater availability of appealing bivalve food products.

    • David F. Willer
    • Richard J. Nicholls
    • David C. Aldridge
    Review Article
  • Vertical farming systems have the potential to form a part of resilient food systems through the production of reliable, high-quality crops in urban landscapes. This Review explores how multi-layer indoor crop cultivation systems currently operate and the conditions needed to upscale and support their integration into mainstream agriculture.

    • S. H. van Delden
    • M. SharathKumar
    • L. F. M. Marcelis
    Review Article
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