Author: Harnishya Palanichamy
Hebron School, Lushington Campus
“If agriculture is to continue to feed the world, it needs to become more like manufacturing”, says Geoffrey Carrand fortunately, that is already beginning to happen.1Advances in technology are key to the future of agriculture as farmers strive to feed the world with limited natural resources.2 In Tamil Nadu state, located in South India, Agriculture is the greatest overriding sector of the state’s economy and nearly 70% of states population is based on agriculture. The agriculture in Tamil Nadu has executed a good performance over the years with the help of efficient farmers who are both receptive and responsive to the technological development announced in the agricultural sector of the state.3 Innovations for small agricultural operations can significantly increase profit margins by minimizing the need for manual labour with automation, expediting machinery commands with remote and real-time monitoring, and allowing farmers to utilize resources more efficiently with preventative maintenance and environmental prediction. Mass embracement of these technology advancements in agriculture will allow small land holding farmers to achieve higher potential for profit, and higher yields on the upfront investments.4I live in Tamil Nadu and our family own an agricultural field and that interests me to investigate this study, for which I researched and collected primary and secondary data regarding the topic. The technologies that are currently reshaping the agriculture of Tamil Nadu state are detailed below.
Precision Farming helps farmers to generate data with the help of sensors and analyse that information to take intelligent and quick decisions.5 It is the application of modern information technologies to provide, process and analyse multisource data of high spatial and temporal resolution for decision making and operations in the management of crop production6 and helps in changing the socio-economic status of farmers.7
Mr.Rajamani, a farmer in Coimbatore district, Tamil Nadu, follows the precision farming in his field, where he broadcasted the coriander seeds in between the turmeric crop, small onion and chilly as intercrops, red gram as border crop and irrigated the field through drip system. He harvested the coriander in 30 – 35 days, onion in 70 days, chillies on 90th day, red gram on 250th day and turmeric fingers on 275 days after sowing. He acquired yield of 7 tonnes of turmeric fingers and 13 tonnes of onion, 2 tonnes of green and dry chilies and 50 kg red gram in one hectare of land. He sold turmeric fingers at the rate of Rs. 135 / kg, onion at Rs. 20/ kg, chillies at Rs. 12/ kg, red gram at Rs. 100/ kg, tender coriander leaves Rs.4/kg and coriander seed at Rs. 15/ kg. He invested Rs. 3,35,400 for cultivation practices and attained a high profit of Rs. 9,66,000 per hectare and this was possible since he shifted from conventional farming to precision farming.8
This process involves the use of biological materials, avoiding synthetic substances to maintain soil fertility and ecological balance thereby minimizing pollution and wastage. It relies on ecological processes, biodiversity and cycles adapted to local conditions, rather than the use of inputs with adverse effects and care for the larger environment and conservation of natural habitats and wildlife.9
Organic farming is the in-thing now in Thanjavur district, the rice bowl of Tamil Nadu, where one hundred farmers are successful in practising organic farming, for crops like- banana, maize and paddy. Mr.Kulandaisamy, a progressive farmer has raised Rasthali and Robust variety of bananas adopting organic farming methods. With respect to Rasthali, a bunch has five to six hands (hands means “seeppu” in Tamil language), instead of three to four hands, which are normally seen in ordinary cultivation and a single bunch weighs 20 kgs and fetches Rs.200. And the Robust variety of banana has 12 to 15 hands in a bunch and the bunch weighs 30 to 35 kgs, which are popularly sold in Tiruchirappalli city (my native), market. Fertiliser used by the farmer was composed using organic matters, neem, and pancha kavya prepared using cow’s urine and cow dung. The farmer has cultivated maize, paddy and Vanila (a profit-oriented venture), using organic farming.10
Drones help farmers optimize the use of inputs such as seeds, fertilizers, water, and pesticides more efficiently. This allows timely protection of crops from pests, saves time for crop scouting, reduces overall cost in farm production, and secures high yield, increasing the farm profitability. 11Initially used for chemical spraying, today drones are a great tool used to assess different aspects of plant health, weeds, and assets.
Tamil Nadu Agricultural University has developed drones, that could carry 15kg agricultural input, that helps to spray pesticides, insecticides and herbicides to protect crops, with a capability of covering one hectare in five minutes and a maximum of three hectares in 15 minutes in a single flight. It could cover large areas in a short time, so that pests could be destroyed across massive tracts of land before they could spread. However, drifting due to varying wind speed is a risk. During windy days it may not be a good choice, says the officials. 12 And in future, usage of a drone would eliminate dependence on the already scarce farm labour.
IOT BASED SMART FARMING
In IoT-based smart farming, a system is built for monitoring the crop field with the help of sensors and automating the irrigation system. The farmers can monitor the field conditions from anywhere.In terms of environmental issues, IoT-based smart farming can provide great benefits including more efficient water usage, or optimization of inputs and treatments. 13
A team of college students from Salem city, Tamil Nadu, have come into the spotlight recently for their Internet-of-Things (IoT) based software solution that seeks to give a push to smart farming, and this crop guidance software is a set of three applications that enable remote monitoring of pest control, automated watering and growth. The objective is to bring in smart farming solutions that allow farmers to produce maximum yields with minimum resources such as water, fertiliser and seeds, and reduce wastage or losses. One of the applications of their IoT-based comprehensive solution is the Plant Growth Monitoring System, which uses colour sensors to check the growth of the plants and sprays fertiliser as and when needed. Another application with an additional WiFi module identifies pest attacks and sprays pesticide precisely on the affected parts of the agricultural land. Another application, the Automatic Plant Watering System, uses a moisture sensor and utilises water resource judiciously as it triggers watering based on the moisture level of the soil. The systems work automatically- for example- in the watering system when the sufficient water level is reached, it will switch off on its own. This makes it easier for farmers and makes the process seamless. As the applications are IoT-based, they also have a feature that provides weather conditions for proper crop growth to the farmers. 14
There are mobile applications that provide latest agricultural information about trends, equipment, technologies and methods being used, help identify pests and diseases, provide real-time data about weather, early warnings about storms, local markets offering best prices, seeds, fertilizers etc. In addition, farmers can also interact and get guidance from agriculture experts across the country via the apps. These apps help in providing market information, facilitating market links, providing access to extension services, farm related information etc.15
About 4,91,811 users of Uzhavan App, launched by Tamil Nadu Agricultural Ministry, educate farmers about soil quality, seeds and fertilizers. FarmMOJO app provides real time solutions for aquaculture, including shrimp and fish farming and this app records data like pH balance, ammonia and nitrate levels and water quality. Tumaini app allows farmers, cultivating banana, to scan plants and detects symptoms on any part of the crop with an accuracy rate of 98%.16
Hydroponics is a way to skip the soil and grow crops directly in nutrient-rich water, that gives higher yield with fewer resources. 17
According to Mr.Srinivasan, a resident of Chennai city, perform commercial hydroponics by growing crops like spinach, kale, and lettuce. With nearly 250 plants across 50 square feet, Rahul Dhoka runs Acqua Farms in Chennai city. The rate of crop growth is around 30 to 40 per cent faster and have a 30 to 40 per cent higher yield, than soil-based agriculture, with a less cost of production ie-lettuce costs Rs 15 to 17 per kg, and basil costs Rs 20 to 25 per kg. 18
SOIL MOISTURE INDICATOR
Soil moisture indicator has sensors to detect the soil moisture content for proper development of plants and notify the user when the soil gets too dry or too wet.19 This device works based on the principle that electrical conductivity of the soil is directly proportional to soil moisture or soil electrical resistance is indirectly proportional to soil moisture content.20. It is suitable for different types of soils and can be used in nurseries, farms, potted plants, etc.21
The Soil Moisture Indicator, a handy and user-friendly electronic moisture–indicating device, was first launched at Sugarcane Breeding Institute at Coimbatore city, Tamil Nadu, which is used for the efficient irrigation management practices such as irrigation-scheduling, particularly in sugarcane fields, that helps the farmers in deciding when to irrigate their fields and as a result there would be considerable saving of irrigation water. The sensor rods of the device need to be inserted into the soil to a required depth to assess the soil moisture, which is indicated by glowing LEDs and the device is suitable for use in agricultural farms as well as in potted plants.22
Radio Frequency Identification Technology offers monitoring systems, which protects the crops from pests and wireless sensors can be used to monitor cattle. It uses dedicated software and hardware to monitor livestock management.23 It supports Animal population trackingand Animal data base monitoring.24
“Mr. Vijaykumar, Perambalur district, Tamil Nadu, relies on computerisation to monitor the dairy along with the 60 staff who stay on the farm. Each animal has a blue-collar tag with a unique microchip number. “Of the 368 cows here, 160 are used for milking and the microchip helps us not just to track each cow’s health and daily milk output, but also to decide if it can be selected for breeding in future.25
The agriculture technologies have changed almost all the domains of farming from sowing to harvesting. These technologies are continued to evolve and invent new innovations that act as catalyst to ameliorate farmers’ life by increasing incoming and providing the access to research stations and agro-scientists. The use of technology can make farmers feel more empowered and enable them to adopt required measures in needful time. It has potential capabilities to transform agriculture into a better prospect to get aware of climatic change and appropriate use of limited natural resources in agricultural land.26 However technologies like hydroponics; drone farming; use of mobile applications and IOT based devices had get tremendous success in Tamil Nadu. Many government organizations and private bodies are working on to give a clear view about new technologies to the farmers of Tamil Nadu, like robotic farming, chromosomal technique and application of remote sensing etc… which are practiced globally.