Thousands of year ago, humans started farming to grow their own food. Humans started with wheat and barley as their first crops. Since then curiosity and technology has brought us so far in the fields of farming. At first, the recognition of soil was required to grow a particular crop. Then different crops came in, climates and seasons for particular crops were discovered along with appropriate regions. Slowly and steadily man has come a long way in the agricultural domain.
When all the discoveries of plants, climates, seasons, soils etc was over, then came the question of efficiency and environmental balance. At first there was no population concerns or deforestation warnings which led to uneven cutting of forests and using it to cultivate crops. Soon these habits resulted in harmful impacts on the climate and environment. Hence humans learned that uneven cutting of trees led to soil erosion, change in climate and defertilisation of land. This lead to building of proper plans on how to create new farm lands without affecting any of the environment elements. The modern plans on even distribution of land led to restoration of balance of nature, soil erosion was reduced and climate change was controlled. But the story doesn’t end here. These happened when there was room for experimentation and there was time for making mistakes. The food demand wasn’t high and loss of crops didn’t affect the hunger of whole mankind.
We are now facing serious threat of shortage of food due to overpopulation. Even at today’s food cultivation, we are hardly able to feed the six continents. In the next 30 years, with the current birth rate the population will reach 9.6 billion. This will lead to 21% shortage of food with today’s cultivation rate. Proper management of fertilizers, ample water distribution, and advanced plowing machines are just not enough to reach the goals of 21% food shortage. Necessity is the mother of invention. The fear of 21% shortage of food made scientists, agriculturists and many more, work on the topic of Precision Agriculture. Precision Agriculture is the newbie terminology echoing the world of agriculture in these days. But what is the depth of this terminology and how far can it help us is still in prototype or discussion stage.
What is Precision Agriculture?
Precision Agriculture as its name says focuses precisely on every aspect of agriculture, right from soil sampling to harvesting of farms.The image above shows every aspect that precision agriculture covers. Data plays a major role in guiding the whole precision agriculture procedure. Drones with GPS capabilities are used to take images of the whole plot. Digital Soil Map is formed using those images which helps in forming proper plans for proper plants to plant, water drainage system etc. IR or SWIR images are taken of the whole farm after plantation and then all the images are mapped into one image with the help of mosaicing and 3D mapping. After that NDVI(Normalized Differential Vegetation Index) map is formulated out of the 3D map formed. NDVI maps are used to detect the health of the plants.
The above image shows the RGB image of wheat crop and equivalent NDVI image which shows the crop health. The amount of green content shows how healthy the plants are.
Using the NDVI map, pesticide or fertilizer amount is calculated for different parts of the farm. The areas with less green patch, indicates crops with lower health and needs more amount of fertilizer spray. Similarly, the area with more green patch, indicates crop with better health and requires lower fertilizer spray. Hence all the data of amount fertilizer to be sprayed along with GPS coordinates is formulated. This data is fed into a ground vehicle which has GPS and a fertilizer control system embedded into it. This vehicle will be fed with the fertilizer data. Using this data, the ground vehicle will spray fertilizer exact amount of fertilizer in exact GPS coordinates. This leads to efficient amount of fertilizer usage in appropriate location which leads to better yield. The whole procedure is repeated week after week to make the system more efficient.
The Precision Agriculture is in prototype stage everywhere. In India, farmers are very reluctant to accept any new technology. Being a certified agricultural country, the reluctant nature is highly unacceptable. India just launched its own GPS satellite, named IRNSS, which has increased triangulation efficiency less than 10m. Using the GPS coordinates in India will become even more accurate than before. There are companies in India who are providing NDVI map services using IR images. But anything above this is still in development stage or non-existent stage. Institutes such as IARI New Delhi , IIT Kharagpur etc are working on this project. ICAR tested Precision Agriculture technique on a farm in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu. It resulted in a 30% increase in yield compared to normal techniques. This proved that the use of Precision Farming, which if multiplied can reach the 21% goal. But a lot of work has to be done before it can be given to farmers on easy to use basis. The equipment needs to be more optimized and user friendly, so that a farmer with little knowledge of technology can buy the product and use it to implement Precision Agriculture.