IFA Smart & Green Explores the Future of Plant Nutrition and Agtech Innovation

As we face the challenge of how to feed the world sustainably, amid the effects of climate change and COVID-19, new partnerships and innovation in the fertilizer industry and agtech sector are more important than ever.

From June 8-10, 411 delegates from 215 companies, 26 startups and 57 countries registered to listen to speakers, from high-level scientists and industry leaders to agtech startups and VC investors, at the inaugural IFA Smart & Green Conference.

“The IFA Smart & Green Conference intends to serve as a permanent platform to build the bridge between the plant nutrition industry and the startup ecosystem,” said IFA Director General Alzbeta Klein.

Over three days the conference explored how to increase innovation to accelerate nutrient use efficiency and effectiveness and showcased cutting-edge plant nutrition technologies from slow- and controlled-release fertilizers to digital farming, biostimulants and nutrient recovery and recycling.

The conference opened by exploring the present and future of agtech and plant nutrition, with a look at the main global market drivers and trends for special fertilizers products as well as fast-growing markets in emerging economies.

Innovation in finance and business models, innovation in technology

Future innovation was a key focus of day one, with a series of startup pitches, an overview of the evolution of the agtech sector, ideas for restructuring R&D and methods to foster innovation in the workplace. Participants also heard about what investors look for in startups, and how to bring agtech, specialized investors and mature companies together for a better planet.

Fertilizer technology innovation was the theme on day two, meanwhile, which explored the possible sustainability and productivity benefits of a wave of novel chemical fertilizer technologies. These included nanofertilizers and biodegradable polymers for controlled-release fertilizers, as well as iodine’s role in plant nutrition and the potential of soluble polyphosphate to increase phosphorus acquisition efficiency.

Biological innovations were also examined, in partnership with the European Biostimulants Industry Council (EBIC), with an overview of biostimulants.

“Biostimulants can play a role in making soils healthier and improving fertilizer use efficiency says,” said Luca Bonini, President of EBIC and CEO of Hello Nature. There is a need for more consistency in and better regulation of biostimulants, participants heard. The current state and future potential of nitrogen-fixing and nutrient-solubilizing microbials was another topic.

Robots and data on the farm, circular economy

The power of precision agriculture and data to transform food systems, improve the lives of smallholders and make farming more sustainable was explored in depth during day three. Speakers highlighted efforts now emerging to create more open platforms for data and data-driven innovation to support the development of tailored precision farming solutions for farmers of any size, anywhere in the world, while several startups showcased new data-driven plant and soil nutrient measuring tools.

“Robots, aka agrobots, could be 3D printed and operate day and night planting biotech and microbiology enabled seeds in a variety of locations which could help create a cheaper and more sustainable agriculture,” predicted Gustavo Grobocopatel, Chairman of Grupo Los Grobo.

Reflecting the growing focus on the circular economy the final session looked at circular approaches and emerging opportunities in nutrient recovery and organic fertilizers. An overview of nutrient recycling from the European Sustainable Phosphorus Platform was followed by a look at a range of different techniques to recover nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium from waste streams, biogas and water.

Last, but by no means least, was a showcase of organo-mineral fertilizers in partnership with the European Consortium of the Organic-Based Fertilizer Industry which highlighted the extensive R&D investment in added-value organic-based fertilizers and showcased several innovators in the space that are recycling insect, animal and organic waste into sustainable fertilizers that can improve soil health.

In keeping with the conference’s aim to connect the plant nutrition industry and the startup ecosystem, the event also welcomed 26 agtech startups with a special on-demand session featuring pitch videos and dedicated booths which allowed them to showcase their innovations and connect with attendees during the conference.

Given the huge potential of new technologies and innovative approaches to improve plant nutrition, and following a highly thought provoking and inspiring first event, the IFA Smart & Green Conference will return for a next edition.