Use of automation in agriculture has many advantages for the farmers as well as social benefits for the country.
It is been a long time since I shared with the readers, the opportunities that are open to entrepreneurs and businessmen in the Farming Automation sector. To recap in brief:
- The usefulness of automated farming in a country where 70% of water used for irrigation is clean, potable water
- The advantage of automation in restricting unscientific use of pesticides
- The importance of automated fertilizer delivery to avoid overuse of costly chemicals
- The need for community farming and farming consortiums, and
- The imminent arrival in the near future of robotic technologies ad drones.
The market throws an opportunity to the entrepreneur when there is a need from the clients or end users. Need is a combination of social and economical factors.
In India, a farmer may opt for automation in his farm if and only if there is an economical benefit in the long run. But somewhere the regulating authorities may be forced to consider social benefits too and move towards creating an ideal environment for the automation sector to pitch in.
This may come in the form of loans and subsidies to the end user or the farmer thereby encouraging him to use automation in his farm. Many state governments in India have come up with subsidies for automation of drip irrigation and sprinkler irrigation in India.
Micro Irrigation is now widely accepted by farmers around the world. It is a water saving solution as the water is delivered drop by drop in a rate which the roots suck it from the soil. Exact water requirement per plant is worked out and emitters placed around the root of the plant do the delivery. This technology saves water for more immediate needs like drinking, cooking and medical applications.
As water is delivered exactly at the area around the roots, there is no water runoff. This reduces growth of common grass and weeds around the trees that become direct competition to the plant when nutrients are delivered.
This technology reduces excessive use of both fertilizer and pesticides and assures correct moisture level in the soil around the roots, increasing the yield.
The technology is suitable for small irrigation applications like green house farming, germination of seeds and nurseries, vegetable gardens and floral gardens.
Automation in drip irrigation involves the implementation of:
- Solar Powered Irrigation Pumps, and
· Motorised valves with GSM and Flow Meters
- Sensors generate information that helps the controller in the central monitoring station in Real Time.
- Accessories like automated soil filters, reverse flow preventers and injectors
- Controlled actuators like solenoid valves and motorised valves
- A fully operational control panel with the microcontroller or the PLC as applicable , and
· Manual Override and Emergency Options.
The same is true for sprinkler irrigation where such a method is mandatory as in the case of vegetable gardens, tea plantations etc when a root to root drip delivery pattern may be impractical. But sprinklers do offer all the benefits to the farmer in such applications as does drip irrigation in fruit farms and other plantations.
- 1. Efficient Water Use: The technology prevents wastage by root to root delivery in exact amounts, low soil evaporation, absence of runoff of potable water to nearby streams or man-made channels, multiple deliveries during the day to synchronise with the water intake of the plant and maintenance of soil moisture at optimum levels.
- Plant Health Monitoring: Plant health is monitored by effective usage of fertilizers and pesticides, correction of pH pre-delivery of water and use of hi-tech equipment.
- User Health Monitoring: The health of the animals and humans who consume the produce is also protected as there is no excessive usage of pesticides.
- Systems Related Advantages: Reliable Hardware and Software that can withstand a minimum of three years in rough conditions. Highly skilled manpower is available in India to run the day to day operations and to maintain the equipment. Flexible design enables upgradation, increase in scale of operations and software overwriting to suit needs of different crops.
- Effective Operations: The economy of operations increase with effective use of fertilizer and pesticides. This gives more profits to the farmer.
- Social Benefits: Automation in farming enables community farming and cooperative farming that enables new entrepreneurs to enter the segment. A vibrant economy can be built around every village India where there is a team of agricultural professionals, engineers, traders, farmers and value addition firms’ working together to make the entire community better.
- Role of Women: The above technologies and other systems like,
- Automated Harvesting, Segregating and Packaging of raw produce
- Cold Storage Units and Ice Plants
- Logistics and Operations Research enabled storage and transport systems that deliver produce from farms to market
- Back End IT systems that employ local technical manpower to take care of operations and supply chain management, and
- Increased use of robotics and drone technologies shall definitely bring in more women into agriculture and associated jobs and empower families in the future.
Some Initial Points to Ponder
- Reduced upward Water Movement: A tank that holds water at a higher level than the highest level in the farm may be useful if the well is situated too low as this may cause uneven pressure distribution both in the tubing and at the point of delivery.
- Maintenance Issues: Careful maintenance of both the tubes and emitters has to be carried out at regular intervals of time. An effective sand filtration process is a must. Care has to be taken that excess plastic parts abandoned or replaced shall not be lying around leading to contamination of soil.
- Hi-Technology: Skilled manpower should be available on demand and on time and the end user of the technology should enter into a mutually benefitting agreement to ensure that the farmer does not suffer due to breakdown of equipment or malfunction of software.
- Initial Installation Cost: The technology may currently benefit large farmers and farmers who are aware of the benefits of automation. These farmers may not mind shelling out that extra rupee to install automated systems in their farms. But the future should see more governmental support to install solar pumps and automated fertigation units in farms.
- Water Treatment: In many places in India, ground water or river water treatment may be necessary for desalination or decontamination. Grey Water Treatment Plants may be used to treat city waste water for agricultural use.
6. Identification of the right technology and the right service provider: This can be guaranteed by one to one interactions by the farmer with the prospective service provider to discuss the options available that shall affect both the purse and the quality.
The author, Senthil V, is an automation architect and develops the architecture and prototyping for various automation applications. Some notable contributions are in farming automation, street lighting automation, water management systems, etc.
He may be contacted at email@example.com for further discussions, awareness campaigns, consultancy and implementation possibilities.
Center for Automation Technology also supports entrepreneurs and investors to promote automation solutions in the Smart City Sector.