The Gist of Kurukshetra: September 2014


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.

Biotechnology

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

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

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.

Farm Mechanization

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 poverty alleviation.

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 applied.

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.

5. Biotechnology

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 line.

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.

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