Bangalore, India: Karnataka state government (in India) provided USD 220,000 fund for a precision agriculture project at Karnataka’s three agricultural universities. The project’s lead institution is the University of Agriculture Sciences (UAS), Raichur, and its coordinator is M.B. Patil, a UAS plant pathologist.
Using the fund, the UAS College of Agriculture set up a Precision Agriculture Research Laboratory. The laboratory is equipped with the latest tools—including Trimble GPS units, Arc GIS, ERDAS imaging software, Skype radiometers and handheld sensors like the Greenseeker. The lab offers a course in precision farming and host a series of trainings for faculty, students and extension agencies, in addition to doing research.
While this rapid progress is encouraging, however, Patil cautioned that the project would not expand too quickly. Rather, it will take the time to do things right. “Already other countries have spent 20 to 30 years doing precision agriculture, but we are in the infancy,” Patil said. “So we want to understand, convince ourselves first, of what exactly is happening in the field.”
With Karnataka carved into so many tiny farms, cooperation will in fact be the key to success in precision farming, Patil added.
Talking about farmers’ view point, Patil explained, “After one local farmer used GPS to map the location of his farm, he asked his son to put the farm’s coordinates into Google Earth on a laptop. They were so happy. It was the first time they understood the location of their farm on the Google Earth image.” He added, “Another farmer was so excited about the variability being revealed by grid-sampling that he’s making a book of every 50 by 50 meter (150 by 150 foot) grid on his farm, including the nearly 50 observations that have been taken in each during the growing season.”
The technology is still relatively expensive for Indian farmers, but the government offers subsidised loans to purchase farm machinery, and farmers also share the equipment willingly, just as they’ve shared labour in the past. When Patil explained to one farmer that a GPS unit cost INR 5 lakh, or USD 10,000, for example, Patil thought the farmer would object to the price. “But immediately the farmer said, ‘No, no, we’ll get it. We’ll share it among 10 farmers,’” Patil recalled. “’We’ll get it if it is useful to us.”