The Gist of Kurukshetra: September 2014
Agriculture Development -–The Road Ahead
Agriculture needs technology infusion to accelerate the
production so that food is accessible to the common man. According to ‘The State
of Food and Agriculture 2013’ of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of
the United Nations, 12.5 percent of the world’s population (868 million people)
are undernourished in terms of energy intake. Of these people, 852 million were
reported to be citizens of developing countries.
According to the estimates of the Food and Agricultural
Organization (FAO), agricultural production would need to grow globally by 70
per cent by 2050 and more specifically by almost 100 per cent in developing
countries, to feed the growing population alone. Pace of technology infusion
should be fast. The study found that malnutrition accounted for a loss of 5 per
cent of the world Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by way of lost productivity and
expenditure on treatment. On the other hand, money spent on reducing
malnutrition boosts earnings with a benefit-to-cost ratio of almost 13 to 1.
Use of biotechnological tools in agriculture could make food
crops high yielding and more robust to biotic and a biotic stresses. This could
stabilize and increase food supplies, which is important against the background
of increasing food demand, climate change and land and water scarcity. In 2012,
170 million hectares (ha) by more than 17 million farmers in around 12 per cent
of the global arable land were planted with genetically modified (GM) crops,
such as soybean, corn, cotton, and canola, but most of these crops were not
grown primarily for direct food use.
But, the use of genetically modified crops was restricted to
cotton only due to concerns echoed by various environmentalist groups. But, now
the Central Government has allowed the trials of other GM crops also which will
give a momentum for adoption of other GM crops. The government has approved 17
GM crops of 8 traits which are of virus- and bacteria-resistant as in 2012.
Nanotechnology can be used in agriculture in many ways. It
can help in promoting soil fertility and balanced crop nutrition; effective weed
control; enhancing seed emergence using carbon nanotubes; delivery of
agriculture chemicals, field-sensing systems to monitor the environmental
stresses and crop conditions and improvement of plant traits against
environmental stresses and diseases. Applications within animal husbandry might
include improving feeding efficiency and nutrition of agricultural animals,
minimizing losses from animal diseases, and turning animal by-products and waste
and environmental concerns into value-added products.
The use of nano size silver particles as antimicrobial agents
has become more common as technology advances, making their production more
economical. Since silver displays different modes of inhibitory action to
microorganisms, it may be used for controlling various plant pathogens in a
relatively safer way compared to commercially used fungicides. Silver is known
to affect many biochemical processes in the microorganisms including the changes
in routine functions and plasma membrane. Nanoparticles are also effective
against insects and pests. Nanoparticles can be used in the preparation of new
formulations like pesticides, insecticides and insect repellants. It can be used
to deliver DNA and other desired chemicals into plant tissues for protection of
host plants against insect pests. Porous hollow silica nanoparticles (PHSNs)
loaded with validamycin (pesticide) can be used as efficient delivery system of
water-soluble pesticide for its controlled release.
Protected cultivation or greenhouse cultivation is the most
promising area where production of horticultural crops has improved
qualitatively and quantitatively world over in the last few decades. Presently,
Spain, the Netherlands and Israel are the leaders in cultivation of crops in
polyhouses and greenhouses. Spain has maximum area of around 70, 000 ha under
protected cultivation. The application of Plasticulture can substantially
decrease the costs and therefore can lead to high productivity with a better
quality of crops. In India, the area under protected cultivation is presently
around 25,000 ha.
India has a very high share of labour (55 %) with lesser
contribution to farm mechanisation (40 %). India makes farming less remunerative
and leads to farmers’ poverty. While USA (2.5 %) and Western Europe (3.9 %) has
very low share of labour in comparison to 95 per cent share of mechanization.
Power is the major crunch in mechanization as only 1.36 kw/ ha power is used in
India in comparison to 8.75 kw/ ha in Japan. Similarly, our country is far
behind Japan with 461.2 number of tractors and 236.9 combine harvesters per
hectare in comparison to 15.75 number of tractors and 0.026 combine harvesters
per hectare. One of the major bottlenecks in farm mechanization in India is 138
million land holdings which are very large in comparison to only 2 to 3 per cent
of the population having landholdings in USA. In spite of rapid farm
mechanization (149 million farm machinery), the Indian farming employs 263
million farm workers to cover 140 million hectares of total cultivated land.
Farm mechanization and use of modern gadgets/ machines/ equipments/ tools for
timely and effective completion of different operation in agricultural field is
one of the most important factors for maximizing profitability.
Use of Modern Irrigation Methods
Availability of water is most critical for increasing the
productivity in agriculture. In India, around 78 per cent water goes to the
agriculture sector, while the remaining part shared out between drinking,
industry and other usage. Therefore, it is required that water storage
facilities to be increased in the country to 450 million cubic meter by 2050.
Dry land agriculture should be the main focus area as more than 60 per cent of
the cultivated area in the country is without irrigation. The water use
efficiency under conventional flood method of irrigation, which is predominantly
practised in Indian agriculture, is very low due to substantial conveyance and
distribution losses. Recognizing the fast decline of irrigation water potential
and increasing demand for water from different sectors, a number of demand
management strategies and programmes have been introduced to save water and
increase the existing water use efficiency in Indian agriculture. Irrigation is
crucial to the global food supply as the 18 per cent of the world’s irrigated
farmland yields 40 percent of the world’s food. Still, less than 4 per cent of
the world’s irrigated land is equipped with micro-irrigation systems.
Irrigation water must be applied at the right time and right
amount, but climate change will affect the irrigation demand as well as the
quantity and timing of water availability, with consequences for the performance
of reservoirs, tube wells and other on-farm irrigation infrastructures. It is
necessary to develop, conserve, utilize and economically manage this critically
important resource on an integrated basis so as to meet the ever-growing demand
for agriculture, industry and domestic use. The modern techniques of irrigation
will increase irrigation potential and stretches out in the direction of the
optimal utilization of water resources through optimum irrigation scheduling
i.e., determination of accurate crop water requirement through micro irrigation.
Micro irrigation is advance techniques of irrigation will increase water use
efficiency and crop productivity.
Modernize Technology Transfer Tools
Technology transfer in agriculture should focus on key
interventions at different stages of the crop from sowing of the seed, crop
protection and harvesting, post-harvest management to marketing. Technology
transfer needs effective interactive groups like Self Help Groups and Farmers
Clubs which should become tools of disseminating information about various
government sponsored schemes and these entities will help in liaising with
various government departments for developmental activities.
Krishi Vighyan Kendras (KVKs) have been established in each
district of the country and now these are the backbone of technology
dissemination in our country. There are 637 KVKs in the country with the mandate
to function as knowledge and resource centres of agricultural technology at the
district level which could increase the technology adoption rate. These KVKs
should work as technology umbrella in the district and should work in an
integrated way with state departments of Agriculture, Horticulture and other
sister departments in the district for effective delivery of the technology and
inputs in an effective way. Village Knowledge Centres and online databases in
local languages should be established. Fast technology dissemination will
certainly reduce the knowledge deficit with the farmers and will help in
accelerating the stagnant growth of agriculture, realizing higher potential of
our land and hard work of our farmers.
New Ways of Improving Agriculture
“Slow agricultural growth is a concern for policymakers as
some two-thirds of India’s people depend on rural employment for a living.
Current agricultural practices are neither economically nor environmentally
sustainable and India’s yields for many agricultural commodities are low. Poorly
maintained irrigation systems and almost universal lack of good extension
services are among the factors responsible. Farmers’ access to markets is
hampered by poor roads, rudimentary market infrastructure, and excessive
regulation.” (World Bank: “India Country Overview 2008”) “With a population of
just over 1.2 billion, India is the world’s largest democracy. In the past
decade, the country has witnessed accelerated economic growth, emerged as a
global player with the world’s fourth largest economy in purchasing power parity
terms, and made progress towards achieving most of the Millennium Development
Goals. India’s integration into the global economy has been accompanied by
impressive economic growth that has brought significant economic and social
benefits to the country.
Technological Needs and Future Agriculture
It is apparent that the tasks of meeting the consumption
needs of the projected population are going to be more difficult given the
higher productivity base than in 1960s. There is also growing realization that
previous strategies of generating and promoting technologies have contributed to
serious and widespread problems of environmental and natural resource
degradation. This implies that in future the technologies that are developed and
promoted must result not only in increased productivity level but also ensure
that the quality of natural resource base is preserved and enhanced.) In short,
they lead to sustainable improvements in agricultural production.
Productivity gains during the ‘Green Revolution’ era were
largely confined to relatively well endowed areas. Given the wide range of
agro-ecological setting and producers, Indian agriculture is faced with a great
diversity of needs, opportunities and prospects. Future growth needs to be more
rapid, more widely distributed and better targeted.
New technologies are needed to push the yield-1rontiers
further, utilize inputs more efficiently and diversify to more sustainable and
higher value cropping patterns, These are all knowledge intensive technologies
that require both a strong research and extension system and skilled farmers but
also a reinvigorated interface where the emphasis is on mutual exchange of
information bringing advantages to all. At the same time potential of less
favoured areas must be better exploited to meet the targets of growth and
The new generation of technologies will have to be much more
site specific, based on high quality science and a heightened opportunity for
end user participation in the identification of targets. These must be not only
aimed at increasing farmers’ technical knowledge and understanding of science
based agriculture but also taking advantage of opportunities for full
integration with indigenous knowledge. It will also need to take on the
challenges of incorporating the socio-economic context and role of markets.
Changes are needed urgently to respond to new demands for
agricultural technologies from several directions. Increasing pressure to
maintain and enhance the integrity of degrading natural resources, changes in
demands and opportunities arising from economic liberalization, unprecedented
opportunities arising from advances in biotechnology, information revolution and
most importantly the need and urgency to reach the poor and disadvantaged who
have been by passed by the green revolution technologies.
1. Tractors on autopilot
Thanks to GPS tractors, combines, sprayers and more can
accurately drive themselves through the field. After the user has told the
onboard computer system how wide a path a given piece of equipment will cover he
will drive a short distance setting A & B points to make a line. Then the GPS
system will have a track to follow and it extrapolates that line into parallel
lines set apart by the width of the tool in use.
2. Your cow is calling too
And it’s not saying “Moo!” Collars developed for livestock
are helping producers keep track of their herds. Sensors in the collar send
information to a rancher’s smart phone giving the rancher a heads up on where a
cow might be, or maybe she’s in some sort of distress, or maybe just in the mood
for some mating. I suppose you could say it’s kind of like telemetric for cows.
RFID tags are also a handy device for livestock management.
The information kept on a tag helps producers keep track of individual animals,
speeding up and making record keeping more precise. I recently read about RFID
tags placed in to hay as it is baled. Data such as moisture and weight can be
stored in the tag to be scanned later.
3. Irrigate via smart phone
Mobile technology is playing a big role in monitoring and
controlling crop irrigation systems. With the right equipment a farmer can
control his irrigation systems from a phone or computer instead of driving to
each field. Moisture sensors in the ground are able to communicate information
about the level of moisture present at certain depths in the soil. This
increased flexibility allows for more precise control of water and other inputs
like fertilizer that are applied by irrigation pivots. Farmers can also combine
this with other tech like VRT mentioned earlier to control the rate of water
4. Field Documentation
Because of onboard monitors and GPS the ability to document
yields, application rates, and tillage practices is becoming easier and more
precise every year. In fact farmers are getting to the point where they have so
much good data on hand that it can be overwhelming to figure out what to do with
all of it.
And of course, every farmer’s favorite form of documentation
is the yield map. It sums up a year’s worth of planning and hard workon a piece
of colorful paper. As harvesting equipments rolls through the field it
calculates yield and moisture as it goes tying it in with GPS coordinates. When
finished a map of the field is printed. These maps are often called heat maps. I
liken then to weather radar maps. Each color on the map relates to a certain
yield range. Now the farmer can see what varieties had the best, worst, or most
consistent yield over varying conditions. Maps like this can tell a farmer how
well a field’s drainage system is working.
Biotech or genetic engineering (GE) isn’t new tech, but it is
a very important tool with much more potential yet to be unleashed. The form of
GE most people have probably heard of is herbicide resistance. The other would
likely be insect resistant traits. Crops can be made to express toxins that
control particular pests. Many employ Bt toxin that is the same toxin found in
some organic pesticides. That means a farmer won’t have to make a pass through
his fields to apply pesticide, which not only saves on pesticide, but fuel,
labor, and wear on equipment too.
New bioteches coming online right now are things like drought
resistant traits and nitrogen use efficiency. What does that mean? In short it
means that crops are going to be able to protect more potential yield in drought
conditions. Another way to look at it would be that farmers who irrigate their
crops can cut back on water use and not see yields suffer.
6. Ultrasounds and more for Livestock
They aren’t just for checking on baby animals in the womb.
Ultrasounds can be used to discover what quality of meat might be found in an
animal before it goes to market. DNA testing helps producers identify animals
with good pedigrees and other desirable qualities. This information can then be
use to improve the quality of the herd which helps the farmer improve his bottom
7. There’s an app for that
Mobile tech is big in agriculture and it’s getting bigger all
the time. Farmers and ranchers are using all the social media sites for all
types of reasons. Some are using apps like foursquare to keep tabs on employees.
You might even catch me on a twitter chat tweeting away right from the tractor
cab. The tractor is driving itself and my hands are free so why not?
Apps can control irrigation and grain storage systems. Want
to load grain into a truck without getting out of the cab? Load Out Technologies
has you covered. I can’t tell you how many times the flashlight app on my phone
comes in handy. Even the camera can be put to work on the farm. If you think you
might forget how something goes back together after you take it apart take a
picture of it assembled. On my phone I have apps that show me soil type via GPS,
agricultural news and markets, insect pests, calculations for mixing herbicide
solutions, and one that tracks growing degree days. GDDs are an index based on
temperature that gives a grower an idea of how mature a crop may be. If you plan
on visiting the National Farm Machinery Show in Louisville, you won’t have to
carry around a map all day that shows vendors booths and event schedules.
There’s an app for that too.
8. Smile for the camera
Livestock managers are wiring up their barns, feedlots, and
pastures with cameras that send images back to a central location like an office
or home computer. They can keep a closer eye on animals when they are away or
home for the night. Val Wagner told me she is setting up cameras to monitor cows
during calving season. Her hope is that by being able to watch the cows during
this critical time they can lessen the chance of calves being born outside on
those well below zero North Dakota nights.
So now you’re up to speed on some of the latest and greatest
things going on in agriculture. It’s all about more data, efficiency, and
precision. Farmers and ranchers have a lot of awesome stuff to help them produce
a bountiful harvest. So long as Mother Nature chooses to play along. She’ll come
up with at least one monkey wrench each year no matter what you do, but that
goes with the territory.