How Agritech Is Helping Farmers Grow Healthier Crops

Dr. Venkat Maroju, CEO at SourceTrace | Wednesday, 30 October 2019, 12:35 IST

Dr. Venkat Maroju, CEO at SourceTraceTechnology is changing the world, and farming is fast catching up. Agriculture is in the grip of a revolution. Today, farmers have access to digital information about weather, soil conditions and crop health to help improve their yields as well as the nutritional value and health of their crops. A digital farm is more efficient and sustainable, with the capacity to grow healthier crops, much more than its earlier counterparts. Growing healthier crops ultimately boils down to three major factors – ensuring soil health, optimising the use of inputs like pesticide and fertilisers, knowledge of the right crop for each soil type and climatic zone, and appropriate management of pests and diseases. So how does digital technology support each of these functions? While the term farmer is generically used in this article, it can also apply to an agri-business or any other farmer-aggregating entity.

Healthy soils

Healthy soils form the foundation of our food source. These soils are the basis for agriculture and the medium in which all food-producing plants grow. A healthy soil is a living, dynamic ecosystem that performs many vital functions, including nutrient recycling. Digital technology can help in retaining or improving soil health with the use of advanced data analytics to nurture soil health as well as the health of crops. Soil types can vary from highly acidic to highly alkaline. For farmers, achieving the right balance between the various elements – nutrients, cost of inputs and minimizing environmental impact is a necessary task, but difficult. Digital technologies using drones and smart irrigation simplify the process of visualizing, understanding and improving fertility. The added environmental benefits are carbon sequestration and reduced erosion.

“By helping farmers to budget better for every grain of seed and millimeter of crop protection agent in future, we can help avoid potential harvest losses, increase both yields and quality of the crop globally”

Optimising the use of inputs

Digital technology helps understand how every kind of input impacts the plant in terms of nutritional value and provides data that will help the farm to yield crops with higher nutritional value. Using such data-driven technologies, farm management solutions help farmers make informed decisions in terms of producing high yields with low inputs. More targeted application means lower pesticide quantities. Data-driven agriculture also helps agri-researchers store information in their databases about the efficacy of the crop protection agents – for example, at which stage of growth certain herbicides are most effective in controlling weeds. When combined with field data, this information can be used to apply pesticides to exactly the square meter that needs it - and nowhere else. This can help minimize the amount of pesticide used, leading to a healthier crop.

Knowledge of the right crops for each soil type

There are thousands of different soil types around the world. But the soil’s quality can vary even within a region or a single field. The more the farmer knows about the soil, the better equipped he is to decide which varieties to sow in a certain area to produce healthy crops and optimal yields.

Digital farming is based on individual data elements. Technologies such as crop modeling are used to understand the right crop for each soil type. Such crop modeling calls for a substantial amount of research in collecting, analyzing and visualizing crop models, with a lot of computation behind the scenes. The farmer can then plug in information such as soil type and how much fertiliser was used, and what day it was planted. The software models the crop and gives the farmer information on when to expect the crop to be at a particular growth stage, and what the expected yield will be.

Pest and disease management

If pests and diseases can be managed better through early alert systems, the crops end up being healthier. Drones and satellites are helping farmers work more efficiently by generating millions of relevant data points. Now-a-days satellite imaging allows us to analyse a single patch of land at a resolution of just 30 cm. The ability to analyse highly accurate data from the current growing season and compare it with previous years brings a whole new dimension to modern agriculture. This helps farmers to better predict influences affecting yields and respond more quickly to changes. This means they can take prompt action regarding the health of the crop.

By helping farmers to budget better for every grain of seed and millimeter of crop protection agent in future, we can help avoid potential harvest losses, increase both yields and quality of the crop globally – and go easy on the environment, as well as the farmers’ pocket.