Agri-tech in simple terms is defined by the application of technology across the agriculture value chain to increase productivity, efficiency, and output. To realise the potential application areas of the technology, it is imperative to have a broader understanding of the break-up of the agriculture value chain which can be classified into: Agri Inputs Harvesting and Transport Processing & Storage Distribution, packaging and handling
Each of the above verticals is enormous in terms of the scale as results are largely inefficient and loosely integrated. Thus, the role of technology becomes crucial to bring efficiency and integration to the whole value chain.
One of the key aids for an agriculturist is information and communication technologies which can aid decision making by giving essential information such as weather forecast, market rates of raw materials and crops, and AI-based sowing advisories. This information can be delivered through SMS or smartphone applications. This will help in making farmers more aware and lead them to make judicious use of agri-inputs. Thus, it will have a long term impact by carving a knowledge economy in the agri space.
Another essential tool to plug process inefficiencies is farm automation. Hi-tech irrigation systems like precision irrigation can reduce inefficiency in terms of water usage. Employing drone or camera-based machine learning algorithms can help identify the precise disease of pest infected area and deploy optimum disease and pest management countermeasures.
Machine learning to boost farmer's income
Machine learning algorithms can also be used to differentiate between weeds and crops. GPS-enabled automated tractors can be used for efficient ploughing, tilling and planting.
Technology also plays an essential role during the post-harvest stage. One can sort and grade farm produce based on colour, size and type using computer vision technology. Thus it helps in standardising the product quality and increase farmer’s income. Technology can also play a role in detecting the moisture content of grains which directly affects processability, shelf-life, usability and quality. Farmers can use the web and mobile applications to sell directly the farm produce at standard but dynamic market rate. Price forecasting algorithms can be used to prevent inflation and to ensure farmers get fair value for their produce.
Digital data records of supply and demand can help in better planning and can prevent prevalent scenarios such as hyperinflation of onions. The price of onions had shot up due to a 26 percent decline in production during the Kharif season of 2019 to 2020, caused by prolonged and untimely rains. Reactionary measures by the government to import vegetables in such a scenario lead to a further problem for farmers, who are neither benefitting from the current high prices nor will they make any extra penny due to a glut in supply due to unplanned imports.
Apart from conventional farming practices, new alternative progressive soil-less agri practices such as hydroponics can play a crucial role in ensuring land and water use efficiency and provides growers with the ability to cultivate crops even in the absence of soil. Hydroponics is a technique of growing plants in water and nutrients, without using soil as a base. One of the major drivers is that hydroponics provides higher yield compared to traditional agricultural techniques, owing to the faster growth cycles. Furthermore, hydroponics eliminates the use of artificial ripening agents and pesticides, which helps in creating nutritionally superior vegetable products.
Indian agri-tech space has its own inherent challenges such as low landholding size of farms, low technological adoption, and food security for the huge population with ever decreasing arable land and water resources. But at the same time Indian agri-tech sector is also witnessing sustained growth with around 450 start-ups are operating in this sector in India (as per a recent report by Nasscom). These start-ups are operating in the field of farm data analytics, supply chain, IoT-enabled solutions and infrastructure and information platforms. These arrays of solutions with policy support from the government will define the future growth of agri-tech sector.
Yash Vyas is the founder of Agro2o.