Home Articles Precision farming in Indian Agricultural Scenario

Precision farming in Indian Agricultural Scenario

Baburao Dashrath kamble
Remote Sensing and Geographic Information System.
School of Advanced Technologies
Asian Institute of Technology, Thailand
Tel: +66-2-524-7525 Fax: +66-2-524-5597
Email: [email protected]

Sustainable agriculture in the context of development efforts has to meet production efficiency, sensitivity of ecosystems, appropriate technology, and maintenance of the environment, cultural diversity and satisfaction of the basic needs. In 1965 green revolution succeeded in India to increase the farmer’s income, yield of major crops and made India self-reliant in food production. Now Modern agricultural management practices are changing from assuming homogenous fields to attempting to address field variability by dividing the field into smaller zones and managing these zones separately Precision agriculture has focused on the development of techniques that primarily aid the convention farming system.( ie. tilling the soil to prepare for planting, and heavy reliance on chemical inputs, such as pesticides and fertilizers). However, some farmers, that use conservation tillage practices and Integrated Pest Management strategies can also use precision farming practices, if they are focused on the correct types of solutions A vision for an innovative route of development in agriculture, with the backdrop of WTO regime and ecological crises that threaten to bring down productivity, could truly be derived from the convergence of biotechnology with space and informatics. Precision agriculture embodies such convergence. The small size of farms and fields in most of Indian agriculture limits economic gains from currently available precision farming technology, while the population density, and public concerns for the environment, food safety and animal welfare means that those potential benefits of precision agriculture are being given more attention. While adoption of precision farming in wide concept has been modest in India the potential for using precision agriculture to address environmental, food safety, animal welfare and sustainability problems seems to be attracting political attention in India conditions. It is not impossible to adopt Precision agriculture in India but Research efforts are needed to find out its applicability in the Indian agricultural scenario. Current paper deals with the applicability, opportunity of precision agriculture in India.

“Agriculture is the backbone of the Indian economy and the villages are the life lines of growth of India.”
Agriculture is a very important sector for the sustained growth of the Indian economy. About 70 per cent of the rural households and 8 per cent of urban households are still principally dependent on agriculture for employment. Since some three-quarters of the population live in rural areas, a majority of households thus depend principally on this sector. Though, industrialization of the Indian economy has adversely affected the share of agriculture in the GDP, the fact cannot be ignored that India has undergone a series of successful agricultural revolutions-starting with the ‘green’ revolution in wheat and rice in the 1960’s and 1970’s, the ‘white’ revolution in milk to the ‘yellow’ revolution in oilseeds in 1980’s. As a result, India has achieved self-sufficiency in agriculture. Applications of agricultural inputs at uniform rates across the field without due regard to in-field variations in soil fertility and crop conditions does not yield desirable results in terms of crop yield. The management of in-field variability in soil fertility and crop conditions for improving the crop production and minimizing the environmental impact is the crux of precision farming. Geographically, India is widely distributed into several agro-climatic zones, and the information need for the farming systems in these areas is entirely different. Integrating the application of available technologies to realize farmers’ goals requires a systems approach to farming. The concept of fully automated villages was a dream till few months back. But the reality has come to true with the rapid growth of information and communication technology in the world scenario. The wired villages and info villages have shown that Information can be disseminated in more useful manner and as farmers need.

Precision agriculture
Precision agriculture is an agricultural system that has the potential of dramatically changing agriculture in this 21st century. Precision agriculture lends it self to most agricultural applications and can be implemented at whatever levels are required. Precision agriculture is based on information technology, which enables the producer to collect information and data for better decision making. Precision agriculture is a pro-active approach that reduces some of the risk and variables common to agriculture. Precision agriculture is more environmentally sound and is and integral part in sustaining natural resources. To better understand the need for an accurate definition of precision agriculture lets look at how precision agriculture is being considered. Precision agriculture is considered a concept, management strategy, and even a philosophy. It is said, “Precision agriculture is a phrase that captures the imagination of many concerned with the production of food, feed, and fiber.” The concept of precision agriculture offers the promise of increasing productivity while decreasing production cost and minimizing environmental impacts. Precision agriculture conjures up images of farmers overcoming the elements with computerized machinery that is precisely controlled via satellites and local sensors and using planning software that accurately predicts crop development. This image has been called the future of agriculture. (Michael Rasher)



Precision farming is characterised by a number of sophisticated tools that assist in monitoring variation and managing inputs. These include:




  • Global Positioning System (GPS) – a referencing device capable of identifying sites within a field;
  • Sensors and dataloggers – crop, soil and climate information can be monitored at a high frequency using these technologies;
  • Geographic Information Systems (GIS) – maps of these attributes can be generated and analysed using simple browsers or complex models;

Fig. 1 precision farming overview



Differential action – once the factors that are limiting yield are identified, action can be taken to overcome or minimise these constraints. The key components of Precision Farming include capturing the data at an appropriate scale and frequency, interpretation and analysis of that data, and implementation of a management response at an appropriate scale and time. In fact, the key differentiator between the conventional management system and precision agriculture is the application of modern information technologies towards providing, processing and analysing the multi-source data of high spatial and temporal resolution for decision-making and operations in the management of crop production.

GPS role in Precision Agriculture.
Precision Agriculture is doing the right thing, at the right place, at the right time. Knowing the right thing to do may involve all kinds of high tech equipments and fancy statistics or other analysis. Doing the right thing however starts with good managers and good operators doing a good job of using common tools such as planters, fertilizer applicators, harvesters and whatever else might be needed. (Colvin and Kerkman, 1999).

The use of GPS in Agriculture is limited but it is fair to expect wide spread use of GPS in future. Recently a GPS-based crop duster (precision GPS Helicopter), which can spray an area as small as 4 X 4 mtr. is attracting great attention. Some progressive farmers are now beginning to use GPS for recording observations. Such as weed growth, unusual plant stress, colouring and growth conditions, which can then be mapped with a GIS programmes. In the years to come, GPS system role in precision agriculture may help the Indian farmers to harvest the fruits of frontier technologies without compromising the quality of land and produce.

Status of Precision farming in India
Hence, the first thing that comes to mind is that, this system is not for developing countries, especially India, where the farmers are poor, farming is mostly subsistent and the land holding size is small. But, this is far from the truth as this approach has a large potential for improving the agricultural production in developing world. Imagine this situation where a farmer goes to his field with a GPS (Global Positioning System)-guided tractor. The GPS senses the exact location of tractor within the field. It sends signals to the computer fixed on to the tractor, which has a Geographical Information System (GIS), storing the soil nutrient requirement map in it. The GIS, in consultation with a Decision Support System would decide what is the exact requirement of fertilisers for that location. It then commands a variable rate fertiliser applicator, which is again attached with the tractor, to apply the exact dosage at the precise location of farm. But, this is what precision farming means to large growers in the highly developed parts of the globe. To make it clearer, Precision Farming is the system of matching of resource application and agronomic practices with soil attributes and crop requirements since they vary across a field.

Tata Kisan Kendra : The concept of precision farming being implemented by the TKKs has the potential to catapult rural India from the bullock-cart age into the new era of satellites and IT. TCL’s extension services, brought to farmers through the TKKs, use remote-sensing technology to analyze soil, inform about crop health, pest attacks and coverage of various crops predicting the final output. This helps farmers adapt quickly to changing conditions. The result: healthier crops, higher yields and enhanced incomes for farmers.

Government organization: Precision Agriculture models are not complete, unless the parameters related to empowerment of the farmers; especially small and marginal farmers are integrated. Now it is the turn of good news to the Indian farming community. Some of the research institutes such as Space Applications Centre (ISRO), M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation, Chennai, Indian Agricultural Research Institute, New Delhi, and Project Directorate of Cropping Systems Research, Modipuram, had started working in this direction and in soon it will help the Indian farmers harvest the fruits of frontier technologies without compromising on the quality of land. According to the Exim Bank officials, though the research and development on PF is currently at a nascent stage in the country, the efforts being put on by the four research institutes were expected to turn the green revolution into an evergreen revolution. In this context, ISRO has also initiated Gramsat project in Orissa. In the line of JDCP, the Gramsat project aims at empowering the people especially the poor and marginalized, by awareness building and access to information and services. Towards this, a network of one-way video and two-way audio Forecasting the yield of mono and multiple crops is being done at NRSA. Acreage estimates and crop inventory is being done during Kharif and Rabi seasons for Rice, which is the major crop grown in our India. Other crops like Banana, Chillies, Cotton, Maize, Sugarcane and Tobacco are also being inventoried. Satellite data can also delineate different crops that are grownin the same area, and an inventory of each of the crops can be done.


Remote sensing and Sensors for PF
Precision farming needs information about mean characteristics of small, relatively homogeneous management zones. This is for Data acquisition of the farms to find the soil, vegetation and other parameters that are amenable for remote sensing. Remote sensing techniques play an important role in precision farming by providing continuous acquired data of agricultural crops. Remote sensors image vegetation, which is growing on different soil types with different water availability, substrate, impact of cultivation, and relief Sensors use for the following applications:

  • Soil Properties Sensing: Soil Texture, Structure, and Physical Condition Soil Moisture; Soil Nutrients.
  • Crop Sensing: Plant Population; Crop Stress and Nutrient Status.
  • Yield Monitoring Systems: Crop Yield; Harvest Swath Width; Crop Moisture:
  • Variable Rate Technology Systems: Fertilizer flow; Weed detection, pressure sensors

This study is aided by sensors such as IRS WiFS/LISS-III/PAN and Radarsat ScanSAR. Some of the other studies include: Crop condition assessment, Agricultural drought assessment, Pests and diseases, Land capability and irrigability

Software solution for precision farming

Linux is a good platform for doing this research-oriented work. Much of the analysis can be translated into such mainstream topics as signal processing or multi-dimensional statistics. Some of the best software for exploring software in these topics is the product of government and university research and is “free”–an important quality in tight budgets. GRASS, xldlas and Santis are three packages which are very helpful in precision farming.

Economics feasibility of Precision Farming in India on agriculture condition
Unlike some new technologies, there is no clear answer as to whether or not PA is economical beneficial. Indian agriculture condition

  1. On the one hand there are depletions of ecological foundations of the agro-ecosystems, as reflected in terms of increasing land degradation, depletion of water resources and rising trends of floods, drought and crop pests and diseases. On the other hand, there is imperative socio-economic need to have enhanced productivity per units of land, water and time.
  2. At present, 3 ha of rain fed areas produce cereal grain equivalent to that produced in 1 ha. of irrigated. Out of 142 million ha. Net sown areas, 92 million ha. are under rain-fed agriculture in the county.
  3. From equity point of view, even the record agricultural production of more than 200 Mt is unable to address food security issue. A close to 60 Mt food grains in the storehouses of Food Corporation of India (FCI) is beyond the affordability and access to the poor and marginalized in many pockets of the country.
  4. Globally, there are challenges arising from the Globalization especially the impact of WTO regime on small and marginalized farmers.
  5. Some other unforeseen challenges could be anticipated global warming scenario and its possible impact on diverse agro-ecosystems in terms of alterations in traditional crop belts, micro-level perturbations in hydrologic cycle and more uncertain crop-weather interactions etc.

While some studies have reported positive returns to variable-rate technology (VRT), others have reported costs higher than returns or no significant difference in returns.

  • Precision Agriculture is a system, not a single piece of equipment or technology. A GPS by it self has little value to farmer. However, when combined with a yield monitor or a VRT, it may have value.
  • Returns may be positive if costs can be spread over many applications. Specialized equipment, which has limited uses, has greater risks associated with it than equipment that has many uses. A multi-use tractor will likely pay for itself sooner than a new, single-use machine.
  • Precision agriculture may not return on low-valued commodities as it does on high-valued specialty crops i.e. high revenue for grape than the wheat and paddy

GPS controlled tractor guidance systems may affect when and how tractors are operated. Precision farming is useful in many situations in developing countries. Rice, wheat, sugar beet, onion, potato and cotton among the field crops and apple, grape, tea, coffee and oil palm among horticultural crops are perhaps the most relevant. Some have a very high value per acre, making excellent cases for site-specific management. For all these crops, yield mapping is the first step to determine the precise locations of the highest and lowest yield areas of the field. Researchers at Kyoto University recently developed a two-row rice harvester for determining yields on a micro plot basis (Iida et al., 1998).

Subsidies on inputs and outputs and mechanisms that prevent the price system from rationing limited resources are also common. The latter include state-guaranteed crop prices, tariffs, import quotas, export subsidies. Inputs such as water and fossil fuels are usually sold at prices that are well below the real resource cost of their use, which consists not only production costs but also includes scarcity value and costs of pollution. In such cases, the formulation of policies that reflect the real scarcity value of natural resources and penalize pollution and policies such as green payments for farmers adopting techniques that would lower environmental costs can promote the adoption of precision farming technologies (Branden et al., 1994).

As in the US, and Europe the development and adoption of precision agriculture in India is a slow process. The small size of farms and fields in most of Indian agriculture limits economic gains from currently available precision farming technology, while the population density, and public concerns for the environment, food safety and animal welfare means that those potential benefits of precision agriculture are being given more attention. The study on precision agriculture has been initiated in many research institutions. For Instance space Application. Center (ISRO), Ahmedabad has started experiment in the Central Potato Research Station farm at Jalandhar, Punjab to study the role of remote sensing, GIS and GPS in mapping the variability. M.S. Swaminathan foundation, Chennai, in collaboration with NABARD, has adopted a village in Dindugal district of Tamilnadu for variable rate input application. IARI, New Delhi has drawn up plans to do precision agriculture experiments in the institute’s farm. Project Directorate for Cropping Systems Research (PDCSR), Modipuram, and Meerut (UP) has initiated a project on precision agriculture in collaboration with Central Institute of Agriculture Engineering (CIAE), Bhopal.


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