It’s time for precision farming

Availability of affordable internet access and advancement in space and information technology is playing very important role in improving agricultural technology and cultivation practice. Earlier, Indian fields had bullocks tilling it and farmers looking up at the sky, praying to rain gods for a shower to have a bountiful harvest. Today, slowly bullocks are replaced by tractors and harvesters, and farmers are looking up at the sky in search of their drones!

In today’s times, Indian farmers are embracing and looking forward to newer technologies and innovations. This comes under the wave of advanced farming technique ‘precision farming’. Precision farming is the new concept of farm management with objective of utilizing the agricultural resources (soil, water, labor, chemicals etc) in a way that with minimum input we get optimum output in form of yield. In simple word, Precision Agriculture (PA) is “applying right treatment at right place at right time” (Gebbers and Adamchuk, 2010). In traditional farming, decision (like fertilizer spread or pesticide/herbicide spray, irrigation etc.) are taken using regional condition and historical data and implementing them equally across the whole field, while in the Precision farming, data are collected using sensor mounted robots/tractors, camera equipped drones, GPS mapping tool and then analyzing collected data using different data analytic software. Based on this real time data, decision are taken for specific site of the field and each plant get the correct treatment without increasing the labor.

Variable Rate Technology (VRT) is important element of Precision farming. In this, spatial variability is measured for as much as possible farm variables like soil moisture , nitrogen level and other micronutrient level, pH, electrical conductivity (EC) etc and then input like water, fertilizer, pesticide, herbicide are applied as per spatial variability map created based on the collected data. In this way, precision farming is not only helping farmer to save their farm resources and minimizing the input cost but also protecting the environment by avoiding the excess use of farm chemicals.

In 1990s, scientist John Deere promoted the use of precision farming after he used a GPS tracker to monitor the soil quality of his farm. It allowed him to steer his tractor basis the position of the crops in his field. He realized that by adopting this method, there was a gradual decline in the amount of seed wasted and he could make more informed decisions of using inputs and resources efficiently. Global Navigation satellite system (GNSS) or Global Positioning System (GPS) based farm technology is advancing towards the driverless auto steering tractor which can perform most of the field task like plowing, seed planting, fertilizer spread etc. Drone can take high quality images which can be used to predict the expected farm yield based on the current biomass. Similarly satellite can be used to take the image of bigger area. Recently John Deere acquired the Blue River Technology which was used to develop the “see and spray” weed control machine. This machine can see, diagnose and spray the weedicide and can avoid crop plant. This will definitely help to reduce the cost of cultivation and use of agro chemicals in farming.

Almost 70-80% of farm equipment sold today is fitted with components of precision farming. However, it is important that farmers follow four steps to ensure good health of the crops while practicing precision farming (Source):

  • Precision soil preparation
  • Precision seeding
  • Precision crop management
  • Precision harvesting

With the growth of agriculture, precision agriculture will reach new heights. Precision farming empowers farmers, helping them make informed decisions. When farmers know their land, soil and inputs better, they are able to use resources more precisely. This reduces the cost of agriculture, and hence the profit margin for them.

Improved income and better lifestyle, do we want anything more for our farmers? If not, we must make precision farming a widely adopted concept in Indian fields.

By Anshuman Tiwari, Scientist, Mahyco


ReferenceGebbers, R. and Adamchuk, V.I., (2010), Precision Agriculture and Food Security,
Science Vol. 327 no. 5967, pp. 828-831, DOI: 10.1126/science.1183899.