Nanotechnology offers benefits for farming, says expert

Emerging nanotechnologies offer a huge range of potential benefits to the food and farming sector, Nanotechnology Industries Association advocacy director Dr David Carlander told the CropWorld conference in London earlier this month.

So-called "nanoclays" can help control the release of products such as fertilisers, he explained. Nanoparticles in solution can also reduce the particle size of partially soluble nutrients such as zinc oxide or manganese carbonate, or can allow previously incompatible chemicals to be combined. Meanwhile, "aerodynamic nanoparticles" in sprays could reduce drift, Carlander added.

Nano-coatings for glass "give you better insulation in a glasshouse, but you lose only a couple of per cent of light transmission", he said, while nanotechnologies also promised miniaturised sensors for moisture, temperature and ultraviolet light.

"Fuel catalysts such as nanoscale cerium dioxide can also reduce fuel consumption in farm machinery," he said.

Nanomaterials have implications for packaging too, he explained, saying: "You won't have to move weight around, so reducing your carbon footprint." Other potential environmental benefits include making packs easier to recycle or compost, while so-called "intelligent" food packaging also holds out the promise of improved food safety, traceability and authentication, he added.

Nanoparticles are defined as being 1-100nm in size. Progress in the field is already well underway, with a fivefold rise in the number of nanotechnology patents filed per year in agriculture alone since 2006.

While all the major agrochemicals firms are involved, China leads the field in new patenting, said Carlander.

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