Trimble Agriculture provides solutions that solve complex technology

Business of Agriculture Magazine had an interaction with Mr. Rajan Aiyer, Managing Director, India & SAARC region, Trimble. He talked about the importance of precision farming and its impact on farmers

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Trimble Agriculture Q. What are some key precision farming practices for smart agriculture?

Precision agriculture or precision farming is simply about employing technology to manage variations in the field accurately to grow more food using fewer resources and reducing production costs.

At a foundational level, once a farmer knows their field and is driving straight lines across it with GPS or GNSS-enabled tractors, they have the capability to implement precision agriculture across the range of their farming operations.

Precision farming spans all stages of agriculture: there are laser-based land levelers and soil health sensors available for optimal land preparation; GNSS-based auto guidance solutions for driving straight lines, for tilling, planting seeds and later harvesting; Optical sensor-based nutrient management products like GreenSeeker, variable rate water and nutrient application solutions for optimal use of water, fertilizers, pesticides and insecticides; and a host of other precision tools that can help farmers produce more with less inputs; and thus implement SMART agriculture.

Q. How does the Trimble Agriculture lead the global players in ‘precision agriculture’?

Trimble Agriculture provides solutions that solve complex technology challenges across the entire agricultural supply chain. Trimble has been successfully developing positioning and navigation products for various industries for 40 years. We’ve grown our agriculture business for more than 20 years. Today, Trimble is the only player in the world to offer a comprehensive and end-to-end portfolio of precision agriculture solutions, with solutions that address land development and preparation, auto-guidance, water and nutrients management, harvesting and yield monitoring systems, everything monitored easily via a specialized software application called the ‘Connected Farm’. No other player in the precision agriculture space has the depth and breadth of technology solutions as Trimble does. (We Do.)

Q. Tell us about your industry-specific solutions.

Key solutions from Trimble’s precision agriculture portfolio, along with their benefits, are listed below:

GreenSeeker Crop Sensing System

The Trimble® GreenSeeker® crop sensing system helps you effectively and precisely manage crop inputs on-the-go. With GreenSeeker, you can address field variability by applying the right amount of fertilizer, in the right place, at the right time.

• Create a high-yielding environment for your crop to grow

• Reduce nutrient input costs by eliminating excess application

• Eliminate the need for application maps or agronomist recommendations

• Operate night or day, and in fog or clouds

The GreenSeeker system uses optical sensors to measure and quantify the variability of the crop. It then creates a targeted prescription to treat the crop variability. Use GreenSeeker to apply your UAN, UREA, and NH3 to help increase crop yields and ultimately increase your profitability.

Laser Transmitters

Trimble offers an entire line of Spectra Precision® laser transmitters that can be used to manually perform a variety of water management tasks and ensure that the water on your field is distributed evenly. Laser transmitter options for various needs and budgets are available.

Trimble’s Auto Steering Technology

Trimble offers assisted and automated steering options to help the farmers in keeping their farming vehicles on line - so that they can focus on other farming tasks. This technology comes with an added benefit of terrain compensation technology. Hence farmers can operate in difficult terrain conditions while minimizing skips, overlaps, and guess rows.

Here are a few benefits that the technology offers to the customers:

• Uniform planting process

• Uniform spacing

• Straight Line

• Furrow matching

• Automatic Implement Lift

• End of the row turn

• On time planting helps in improved productivity

• Reduction in drudgery & convenience

Q. What is the significance of geomapping in agriculture? How does it work?

Geomapping or field mapping is a critical precision-farming process. Geomapping is done by creating an accurate, GNSS-enabled recording of field boundary, often down to a centimeter’s precision, calculation of the surface area, and registering location points. Other stages involve measuring and recording drainage tile, land level, grid locations etc.

Once completed, geomapping plays a vital role in the monitoring and management of soil and irrigation of a farm. The data, often in form of maps, is turned into highly useful information that farmers can use for successive stages of growing a crop.

Q. What are the biggest challenges facing India’s agriculture industry?

There are many challenges facing India’s agriculture sector. Critical among them are an overbearing dominance of small farm holdings, which inevitably lead to low capitalization; lower productivity and low incomes for farmers.

There is also limited access to good water and many Indian states are grappling with severely depleted groundwater reserves. The soil is also degrading over the years and farmers often face uncertain soil health. Often, they do not have easy access to quality seeds. India’s weather and rains are highly unpredictable and they make the situation for farmers even more complicated.

Interestingly, many of these challenges are not unique to Indian farmers only and are common in this industry across the world. We believe precision agriculture can help address some of these challenges. A few good examples are enabling the optimal use of water and nutrients and better sustainability and preservation of soil fertility and more yield for the farmers.

The other bigger challenge in India is the lack of mechanization and the slow rate of technology adoption. The average farm power consumption in USA and China is 6KW per Ha3 and 6KW per Ha3 (cubic hectare), while it is just 1.5KW/Ha3 in India.

Q. How can precision agriculture boost farmer incomes?

Precision agriculture can help farmers boost their incomes in two major ways:

• Savings on input costs: fuel costs for tractors, seeds, excess fertiliser or pesticide/insecticide, water. For example, using laser land leveller can help farmers save up to 30 percent water

• Improved productivity and yields: For example, using auto-guidance based harvesting solutions, farmers can register 20-30 percent gains in crop yields

As per a recent report by FICCI, the total production of food grains in India increased from over 50 million tonnes in 1950-51 to 272 million tonnes in 2016-17 as a result of mechanization. We can sustain these productivity gains going forward by adopting precision agriculture.

To cite an example, the use of auto-steering technology, while sowing and harvesting potatoes, can help farmers sow seeds in a straight line and avoid crop wastage during harvesting. If seeds are not sown in a straight line, any harvesting via tractors inevitably leads to severe crop damage, which can be as high as 40 percent of the crop. Auto-steering technology from players like Trimble can help avoid this damage, ultimately leading to higher incomes.

Q. What are the issues you face in launching new products and services in agriculture?

Given that a majority of Indian farmers have small land holdings, adding technology to smaller farms will have to be demonstrated and experienced by the farmers. However, our experience in other markets around the world shows that once the “early adopters” realize the gains of using precision agriculture, the technology quickly goes mainstream.

We are committed to working with Indian farmers to make precision agriculture work for them. We also believe that it is important for precision agriculture to integrate into existing farming practices and workflows to generate maximum value for Indian farmers. Our goal, therefore, is to provide education and training from our experience in this space, and help them embrace precision agriculture for longer-term growth.

Q. What are the recent shifts in the agriculture industry?

Farming in India no more paints a picture of a poor man in rags, tilling and ploughing the land with oxen and bulls. Like every other sector, it has become smarter with time, incorporating modern ideas and technology to increase productivity. In the last decade, we have witnessed some path breaking shifts in agricultural practices that have lead to positive transformations.

Mechanisation in agriculture has resulted in multi-fold increase in yield production. In addition to this, large farmers in India are also deploying Precision farming techniques during different stages of cultivation, especially in the northern states of Punjab, Haryana, Western UP and Rajasthan. The advent of Big Data in agricultural technology has also helped in selection of right agriculture-inputs, monitoring the soil moisture, tracking prices of markets and controlling irrigation water to the farmers.

In fact, it is time for another impending yet important shift, i.e., moving the focus from land productivity to water productivity, as a report released by the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) also emphasizes. Ten major crops that are being widely cultivated in India, including rice, wheat, maize, red gram or tur, chickpea, sugarcane, cotton, groundnut, rapeseed and potato are water intensive crops. These crops occupy more than 60 percent of the country’s gross cropped area. Indian agriculture uses almost 80 percent of the country’s water resources. Thus, the need of the hour is to lower the stress on water bodies and change our goals to increasing the productivity per unit of water.

At Trimble, we believe in understanding the core challenges of the farmer and working with them to get the best technology enabled resolutions for them.

Q. What about planning for sustainability with better environmental and public outcomes?

Despite rapid urbanisation, India is still largely an agrarian society. A large proportion of India’s population is dependent on agriculture and allied sectors for their livelihood, which makes sustainability a crucial subject.

To foster growth, India needs to counter the root problems being faced by the majority of Indian farmers, such as deteriorating quality of land, depletion in water resources, decreasing per capita land availability and insufficient storage.

Taking into account the shortage of ground water, we believe policymakers should encourage a viable crop rotation practice with a mix of water intensive and non-water intensive crops. For example, rice is a water intensive crop and is the biggest component of Indian exports. Between 2006-07 and 2016-17, rice alone accounted for around 17 percent of the total value of India’s agricultural exports. More than half of rice exports are of the basmati variety. Many farmers and exporters must have gained from the sharp rise in India’s rice exports.

However, with rapidly depleting water tables due to excessive use of ground water, we need to rethink our reliance on growing and exporting rice. Exporting basmati rice without thinking of its environmental and ecological implications is fraught with risks.

We need incentives that reward our farmers for shifting to producing environment-friendly crops, even if they do not get us more in export earnings. We should encourage farmers to switch to pulse cultivation from rice. Unlike rice, pulse cultivation can improve soil health, as pulses help in increasing nitrogen content, which is a crucial soil nutrient.

Current farming practices are crucial for future sustainability. Markets, especially in foreign trade, are not the best way to send the right signals to adhere to these concerns. A smart country would encourage its farmers to cultivate environment-friendly crops and import the environment-damaging ones. The farmer cannot be expected to act with foresight in such matters. This increases the role of policy making that focuses on the future even more.

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