Spotlight 2023

KORA LABS - decreasing N₂O emissions from fertilisation in agriculture

Mineral nitrogen fertilisation in Swiss agriculture is responsible for 1Mt of CO₂e emissions (4% of total emissions) due to its misuse and losses in the environment. We want to make nitrogen management more efficient using a personalised and low-cost app. Our app suggests to any farmer how much, when and what fertiliser to apply according to their farm's unique history and current weather, such that as much fertiliser as possible is used by the crops and not wasted in the environment.

Who are the people behind the project and what is your background?

We are a team of two researchers from ETH, currently doing a postdoc in machine learning for sustainable agriculture. Matteo has a background in engineering and robotics while Luca studied mathematics and physics. During our PhD in machine learning, we developed a strong interest in the sustainability of the food system and we started exploring solutions, building a vertical farm in the living room. From there we got involved in other agriculture projects, as crop breeding and farm management.

How did your idea come into being?

For our team, the environmental footprint of the food system is of crucial importance. Unfortunately, the efficiency of nitrogen use in Swiss agriculture is very low, with an efficiency of just 36%, much lower than all the other neighbouring countries (Germany 62%, Italy 52%, France 73% and Austria 86%). Two years ago we learned about these staggering numbers and decided to put our expertise in machine learning to good use. We partnered with Agroscope, the Swiss research institute for agriculture, to develop a new digital tool to decrease mineral fertilisation emissions and improve its use by crops. After 6 months of development in the lab, we finally had the opportunity to test our system in the real world with a wheat field trial for the 2023 growing season.

What is your idea to impactfully design a climate positive FOODprint for Switzerland?

With the support of the program from ClimaNow, we will transform our research from a project in a lab to a real impact on Swiss agriculture. We will develop a user-friendly app, empowering any farmer with state-of-the-art tools to assess the outcome of their actions in the fields and machine-learning-based recommendations for nitrogen management. We will collaborate with Swiss farm cooperatives to quickly distribute the app to the wide community. By monitoring nitrogen use and crop yields we will estimate N2O emissions through third-party accounting, ensuring transparency. Regular reports by farmers will showcase emission reductions and increased revenues, highlighting the benefits of more sustainable fertilisation practices encouraged by our app. We envision a transformative impact on Swiss agriculture, mitigating climate change and fostering a greener and more resilient future for the food system.

How do you define the positive impact of your solution on the problem described above?

We will measure the positive impact of our app on agriculture according to various metrics. Environmental: We will track how our app optimises nitrogen use, reduces emissions (measured in tCO2e emission reductions), and contributes to climate change mitigation. Economic: By empowering any farmer with data-driven insights, our app will enhance crop yields and resource efficiency, leading to increased profitability in the agricultural sector, and supporting rural areas. To assess these benefits, we will track the profitability of the system compared to historical and community/geographical baselines. Social: We will track how our app fosters the community of farmers, tracking the adoption rate and its use in farm cooperatives. We believe that our app will foster sustainable practices in the farm communities, promoting knowledge-sharing and collaboration towards environmental stewardship.

Mission Model Canvas