India is an agricultural powerhouse. With a workforce majority of over 50%, agriculture significantly contributes approximately 18% to India’s GDP. India leads the world in milk, pulses, and spices production. The world’s largest cattle herd features buffaloes as well. The production of rice, wheat, sugarcane, groundnut, vegetables, fruit, and cotton is the second largest in this country.
Nevertheless, Indian agriculture encounters significant challenges. Challenges in the sector include small and fragmented land holdings, traditional farming practices, dependence on monsoons, ineffective water management, and low yields per hectare. That said, endeavors are underway to confront these obstacles and enhance the overall productivity of the farming sector.
Precision agriculture presents numerous solutions to various challenges. By utilizing advanced technologies like GPS, sensors, satellite imagery, robotics, and artificial intelligence, an approach is implemented to optimize crop production.
Farmers can optimize input utilization and maximize productivity by implementing precision farming techniques. The role of agritech in enabling precision agriculture through data analytics, IoT, AI, and other technologies is crucial. Agritech startups are developing innovative solutions to help farmers adopt precision techniques.
Some key precision farming techniques that can transform Indian agriculture include:
Traditional methods of farm mapping are time-consuming and inaccurate. GPS-enabled farm mapping generates precise maps of farmlands showing boundaries, water sources, soil conditions, and more.
GPS-enabled farm mapping involves surveying fields using GPS receivers. The data is then processed by GIS software to create detailed farm maps. These maps allow farmers to analyze farm characteristics like soil fertility variability and plan operations like irrigation and fertilizer application accordingly.
For example, fertilizer requirements vary across different farm zones based on soil nutrition levels. By mapping soil nutrient levels through proper soil testing, farmers can apply fertilizer and other inputs on a site-specific basis using GPS-guided fertilizer applicators. This leads to optimal utilization of inputs and cost savings.
2. Variable Rate Technology (VRT)
Traditional farming relies on the blanket application of inputs like seed, fertilizers, water, etc, across fields. However, soil conditions and requirements vary even within fields.
Variable rate technology uses GPS maps and special equipment to allow farmers to vary input application rates across the field. VRT optimizes input usage by applying inputs based on precise requirements.
VRT-enabled tractors, fertilizer applicators, planters, and irrigation systems can precisely regulate application rates based on location within the field. VRT reduces wastage, lowers costs, and protects the environment.
Remote sensing means obtaining crop information through aerial sensors and satellite imagery without direct contact. It allows efficient monitoring of crop growth and conditions over large areas.
Using multispectral and hyperspectral aerial/satellite imagery combined with analytics, key crop parameters like plant health, moisture stress, nutrient levels, pest/disease infestation, yield estimates, etc., can be assessed.
Satellite imagery helps monitor irrigation needs and scheduling. It also enables effective crop insurance by providing timely information on crop damages and losses.
Efficient water utilization is critical given India’s overexploited groundwater sources and reliance on monsoons. Automated smart irrigation systems allow precise and controlled water application preventing wastage.
Smart irrigation solutions include:
- Drip irrigation – Drip systems deliver water directly to plant roots minimizing evaporation and runoff. Built-in timers and valves allow the automation of watering schedules.
- Central pivot/linear move systems – These systems move across fields and deliver preset amounts of water. They provide uniform coverage and conserve water.
- Soil moisture sensor-based control – Automated systems integrated with soil moisture probes activate irrigation when soil moisture drops below set levels.
- Variable rate irrigation – Combines remote sensing data, variable rate technology, and control systems for optimal water application across fields.
Timely monitoring of crop growth and health is essential for high yields. This allows early detection of pest attacks, diseases, nutrient deficiencies, etc., so farmers can take swift action.
Drones and UAVs with advanced sensors and digital imaging capabilities allow quick aerial surveys for crop monitoring over large areas. The high-resolution photographs/videos captured can be digitally processed to detect issues like irrigation faults, soil variations, and the presence of pests.
Meanwhile, automated pest traps monitor and signal pest infestations allowing precisely targeted pesticide application only in affected zones. Smart disease warning systems provide alerts on the onset of diseases based on weather data and historical models, allowing preventive spraying.
Autonomous tractors, spraying robots, fruit-picking robots, and drone swarms are set to transform modern agriculture. Driverless tractors equipped with GPS navigation plant seeds and apply chemicals with exceptional speed and precision.
Drones with multispectral cameras monitor crops, while drone swarms coordinated through AI can rapidly pollinate fields or apply pesticides. Robotic fruit pickers carefully harvest delicate soft fruits without bruising. Automation reduces labor costs and enables uninterrupted 24/7 mechanized farming.
The data-driven insights from precision agriculture technologies are leveraged using AI and big data analytics.
Big data from satellite imagery, sensors, equipment, soil, weather, and more are integrated and processed using AI, machine learning, and statistical models. AI systems can continuously learn and deliver actionable intelligence to guide critical farm management decisions.
For instance, IBM Research has developed an AI solution named PAWS which taps into data from multiple sources to generate timely recommendations for farmers related to sowing, water, nutrients, and more.
Blockchain offers a decentralized, tamper-proof means to record, track and share farm data with precision and security. Blockchain-enabled ‘smart contracts’ allow farmers to receive payments automatically when contract conditions are met.
Blockchain improves supply chain transparency by tracking produce end-to-end from farm to fork. Consumers can gain insights into product origins and farming practices. Blockchain improves trust in food quality and safety.
Adopting revolutionizing agriculture techniques can drive the growth of India’s sustainable data-driven farming sector. Efficient use of inputs will reduce the cost of cultivation for farmers. Environmentally sustainable precision agriculture will also enable meeting commitments under the Paris Agreement and UN SDGs.
Some studies by industry bodies have indicated precision farming methods can:
- Reduce water usage by 30-40%
- Lower costs of production by 25-30% through efficient input use
- Cut down fertilizer consumption by 25%
- Improve productivity and yields by 20-25%
Many Indian farmers own small land parcels and cannot invest in advanced machinery for precision farming. The fragmented land holdings also make adopting these technologies difficult.
Expanding mechanized farming across larger contiguous areas would facilitate precision technique adoption. Despite hurdles, the future looks promising, given increasing rural smartphone and internet access. Precision farming can transform productivity and farmer incomes while preserving natural resources.
However, It is quite known that BadiKheti is doing its bit on transforming Indian agriculture by empowering farmers with various technological and educational information; hence, farmers do get reliable inputs for precision farming. Through its online platform, Badikheti provides farmers access to quality seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, and equipment to optimize yields. Badikheti aims to improve agricultural productivity and sustainability nationwide by facilitating the adoption of precision techniques.
Precision farming leverages technology like GPS, sensors, robotics, and AI to enable data-driven, precise management of inputs like water, fertilizer, and pesticides. This optimizes resource use, reduces costs, increases yields, and improves environmental sustainability