Precision Agriculture and Relevance to Seed Industry

India falls within top 10 ranks in the total production of most crops, however, India’s productivity ranking is very poor and is not even in the top 50 in many crops. Precision Agriculture (PA) is one technique to directly influence crop productivity and farmers’ income. It is the practice of customizing the crop inputs applied on a farm to smaller patches within the farm land depending on the agronomic characteristics and resource needs of that particular patch of land at that particular time. Soft PA that depends on farmers’ visual observation, experience and intuition has been practiced for many years. However, hard PA that depends on modern technologies like GPS (global positioning system), sensor technologies, yield monitors, RS (Remote sensing) and VRT (Variable Rate Technology) has very low adoption in developing countries like India due to high financial costs, lack of technological knowhow, and clear short term benefit for PA.

Globally,the adoption of PA vary in terms of amount and type of technology. Developedcountries like USA and Australia use the whole range of precision farmingdevices and decision making forland leveling, seed application, inputs application,and water application. Among developing nations, site specific decisions onfertilization and micro nutrient application have been successfully practicedin rubber plantation of Malaysia, sugarcane farms of Brazil, Mauritius, bananaplantation in Costa Rica, farms in Uruguay. Countries like Indonesia,Philippines and Vietnam have successful cases of Leaf Color Chart for Nitrogenapplication in rice farming.

In Indiatoo, though nascent, the technique has found successful adoption in precisionfarming project of Tamil Nadu (farmers were advised to tailor inputs – water,fertilizer and pesticides – in a measured form using a location specific, fieldspecific and crop specific approach; yield increases of 60% were achieved )and laser land leveling in various states – Punjab, Haryana etc. The precisionfarming project in Tamil Nadu’s Dharmapuri and Krishnagiri districts started in2004-05 with 400haland of smallholder farmers and has continuously hadincreasing number of adopters from within and neighboring states as well.

Seedindustry need to be ready for a future that has higher adoption of precisionagriculture practices – both in seed production and normal cultivation.Monsanto’s acquisition of Climate Corporation is a case in point of where a globalseed company has invested in capabilities for agriculture analytics and greaterinformation with a vision to achieve higher productivity while utilizing theplanet’s finite resources more precisely.  

The wayforward involves a collective movement towards higher technology in theagriculture field by all players concerned. Relevant areas for seed sectorplayers are as follows. Seed variability within the farm is a potentialimprovement area. Using seed metering devices, the farmers can achieve optimumplant stand with less seed rates . Various seed with differentcharacteristics can be made available, so the farmer need not sow uniform seedall over his field and can customize as per the field conditions. Seedtreatment customization based on soil type and the characteristics in afarmer’s field could be another possible area of improvement. Seed companiescould develop technology to delay the application of treatment till the pointof sale and customize it as per the requirements of the farmer. Seed companiescan also explore the options to design simple sensors for the kind of factors.Input subsidy/ credit availability are main factors influencing faster andbetter adoption of PA  . Further, seed companies have animportant role in the education and adoption of PA by farmers.

Thus,precision agriculture is a technique that will become increasingly relevant andcontribute to increasing crop productivity, food availability and farmers’income.

Aboutthe author: 

Vignesh V.J. (Vignesh) is a Manager with International Development team at SathguruManagement Consultants with expertise in grant writing, projectconceptualization and implementing large projects in the internationaldevelopment space. He is very active in creating linkages with global fundingbodies and creating large consortiums for project implementation. Vignesh hasover 7.5 years of experience working across geographies such as – Zambia,Mozambique and Ghana in Africa and Papua New Guinea in the pacific islands.Vignesh brings his academic excellence in MBA from IIM Indore and a graduatedegree in Mechanical Engineering from IIT Madras. 

Authored by: Vignesh V. J, Manager with International Development group at Sathguru Management Consultants 

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