Precision Agriculture and Role of Technologies
Geographic Information System (GIS) has become an essential tool supporting the growth of all economic activities. Agriculture sector, which is one of the most important economic sectors for India, is also witnessing a disruption through the adoption of new age technologies. At present, India is the third-largest agricultural producer in terms of value, after the United States and China. The Expert Market Research Report on Indian Agriculture Market Outlook outlined that, “The Indian agriculture market reached a value of about INR 55,994 billion in 2020. The market is further expected to grow at a CAGR of nearly 12% between 2021 and 2026 to reach a value of approximately INR 111,916 billion by 2026.”
Historically India has been an agrarian society and since the rise in urbanization and population, the demand for various agrarian commodities has grown even further. The rise in demand has led farmers to adopt advanced techniques where Precision Farming is helping farmers deliver higher yield and better-quality produce. Precision farming is an integrated technique that uses Drones, LiDAR, satellite imagery and other geospatial tools to map and monitor all facets of agricultural production. It helps in effective utilization of inputs to enhance crop yield and its quality without polluting the environment that results in sustainable agriculture and development. The technology can help increase productivity, employment, and income of poor segments of the agricultural population.
Role of Technology
Geospatial tools along with other cutting-edge technologies are helping farmers around the world to carry out crop forecasting and handle their agriculture production. It helps them to visually analyze agricultural environments, land resources, and workflows and decide which crops should be planted where and how to preserve soil nutrition and achieve maximum benefit.
Globally, precision agriculture gained momentum with the advent of scientific know-how that enabled farmers to discern the varying properties of different pieces of land, mostly because of soil type, moisture content, and nutrient availability. Through the use of remote sensing, GIS and GPS, farmers can decide more accurately what resources are to be used in which location and in what quantities. With this information they can effectively utilize resources like fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides along with water, which not just maximizes yield but also reduces expense, thus boosting their profits.
Precision farming involves various technologies to boost productivity:
Remote Sensing – The first step in precision farming is mapping the land through remote sensing data and dividing a large farm into management zones. The zoning of land is done based on various criteria like soil types, pH rates, pest infestation, nutrient availability, soil moisture content, fertility requirements, weather predictions, crop characteristics, and hybrid responses. Remote sensing technology has an indispensable role in precision farming as they provide continuous data about soil texture, plant population, crop stress and nutrient status, crop moisture, weed detection, and crop yield.
GPS – From soil sampling to weed location, accurate planting, creation of yield maps and harvesting, GPS/precise position technology has a multifaceted role to play in precision farming. The technology helps to geolocate soil samples that help estimate geographical distribution of nutrients in the sampled area that helps farmers to better optimize fertilizers. The technology also helps to identify weed patches in the farmland that hinders growth of crops. It is also used to map out projected yields from specific farmland depending upon land and seed characteristics. GPS-based crop sprayers are also gaining popularity that can spray pesticides over areas as small as 4 X 4 meters in area. The technology also helps to observe weed growth, atypical plant stress, coloring, and their growth conditions.
Variable Rate Technology (VRT) – Variable Rate Technology implies any technology that empowers the variable usage of inputs and lets farmers control the number of inputs they employ in a specific location. The basic components of VRT include a computer software, controller, and Differential Global Positioning System (DGPS). There are two basic methodologies to use VRT; these are map-based and sensor-based VRT. Sensor-based VRT uses crop sensors to decide what materials in what quantity are required to optimize crop growth. The sensors specify changing characteristics of crops and the field. Map-based VRT uses mapping technique where the entire farmland is mapped, which is further stored into a system to control the application rates within each ‘zone’ of the map. This technique allows testing soil and other data required to create prescription maps. Application of VRT include spraying of pesticides, manure, and other chemicals, seeding crop fields, tillage, detection of weeds or diseased crops.
Computer-based applications – Computer applications are used to make precise field maps, farm plans, crop scouting, and yield maps. The technology allows more precise application of inputs such as pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers, which results in expense reduction, produces better yields, and adopts a better environmental-friendly method.
India is one of the key agricultural producers in the world with over 155 million hectares of arable land. With 18 percent of share in India’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the sector employs more than half of India’s population. However, due to structural challenges, the sector is witnessing low productivity, uneconomic landholding size, high biotic losses, and a low level of modernization. The sector requires the adoption of digital and precision agriculture technologies that can help increase productivity. Countries like China, Japan, the United States and Brazil are making speedy headways in adopting advanced technologies in agriculture and are making both regulatory and structural changes to speed up the adoption.
India too has started integrating high-end technologies in the agriculture sector. States like Punjab, Rajasthan, Haryana, and Gujarat are practicing farming with the use of new age technologies. However, India still has a long way to go for effective development and implementation of precision agricultural technologies on full scale. To leapfrog in this direction, Indian farmers and associations need to be better informed and educated about the available technology and stronger partnerships are needed between the stakeholders.