Member of the IRDG Executive Param Paramanathan is engaged in discussions with a farmer in Mullaithivu to pilot "Drip Irrigation", a component of precision farming. Kularuban Kulasegaram a freelance Project Consultant and Trainer, and Makeswaran Rajethan an Agricultural Engineer with the assistance of the Provincial Department of Agriculture in the North are setting up the pilot system with 10 farmers.
More on precision farming by Paramanathan...
Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU) in Coimbatore developed a Precision Farming Model, after carrying out field trials for about five years, to enhance agricultural production. It relates to cultivation of vegetables, fruits and other cash crops. In 2005 TNAU demonstrated through 10 small-holder farmers the potential of the Model to give about 3 times the profits the farmers were making until then. The much increased profits were made possible by reduction in the cost of production and higher yields (possible yields are listed below) as well as better prices for the produce by increasing their shelf-life.
TNAU and Tamil Nadu Government have been promoting the adoption of Precision Farming Model by small-holder farmers since 2006. The farmers were initially sceptical about the Model’s relevance and capability, as well as didn’t wish to move away from their traditional farming methods. After seeing the successes of a few farmers in different villages, since 2006 thousands of other farmers in the neighbourhood have been adopting the Model with great success each year - the total number has now exceeded 100,000. Other south Indian States are copying this Model now by setting up demonstration farms in their own districts.
- Improved Farming Practices and Technologies
The Model entails the following improved farming practice and technology to enhance financial returns:
- Formation of cooperatives, one for each group of 15-20 small-holder (up to 5.0 acres) farmers; this would help to collectively obtain various services associated with farming from the private sector at reduced rates, as well as collectively market the different produce directly to the end users to obtain higher prices;
- Conduct of soil analyses, taking samples at not less than two spots – to identify pH & EC and levels of available important minerals (N, P, K, Ca, Mn & Mg);
- Selection of crops based on soil suitability – fertility, particularly existing levels of important soil nutrients; drainability, soil structure, etc.
- Adoption of suitable crop rotation, cropping pattern and crop calendar to improve soil nutrient and reduce propagation of weeds, pests and diseases;
- Use of appropriate equipment / tools to prepare land to suit the crops to be cultivated and the irrigation method to be applied; loosening the soil to 1.5 ft (but not turning the soil up) in both directions twice using a chisel plough to and increase soil aeration;
- Use of high yielding seeds that have been treated against pests and fungus;
- Use of shaded nurseries and tray of plastic cups (pro-tray) to produce virile and healthy seedlings;
- Transplantation of seedlings in appropriate spacing and in rows to facilitate cultivation;
- Practising of holistic approach for crop cultivation, including plant protection as well as soil and water conservation;
- Use of appropriate chemicals and/or bio-control measures at correct times and dosages – these should be not only directed at crops during cultivation, but also at the soil and seeds before commencing the cultivation;
- Adoption of drip irrigation (automated), which would enable application of precise amounts of water at regular intervals, just sufficient to meet crop need – substantially reducing water usage as well as labour and power consumption;
- Use of water soluble fertilizers, which would allow precise dosages to be applied via drip irrigation at appropriate times, thus reducing the quantity of fertilizer and labour for applying it;
- Application of careful harvesting, grading of produce (based on size and quality) and improved packaging, all to obtain longer shelf-life for the produce as well as enhanced financial returns;
- Establishment of direct marketing link between the farmers and the consumers, including major supermarkets, to obtain better share of the sale price that the public pay;
- Maintenance of daily farm activity record – this would not only encourage transparency in farming activities, but also encourage the farmers to keep account of expenditure and income as well as take control of their finances.
- Net Income and Social impact
The improved farming practices and appropriate technologies have helped the farmers in Tamil Nadu to achieve more than a three-fold net income (profit). The annual profit would range from Rs 120,000 to Rs 200,000 per acre, depending on the crop and demand for its produce.
In Tamil Nadu, the much increased profits have helped to retain farm families in agriculture, and also minimise their migration for better life elsewhere in urban areas. Furthermore, it has now encouraged the non-participating farmers to seek Precision Farming technologies, thus making the Model a farmer driven one.
Table of Expected Yields per Season
|Crop||Yield tonnes / acre||Crop||Yield tonnes / acre|
|Brinjal (in 18 months)||150||Maize||3|
- Transfer of Agricultural Technology
The Vice Chancellor of TNAU and a team of professors have come forward to transfer agricultural technology to the agricultural sector in Sri Lanka. It includes the Precision Farming Model as well as Post-Harvest Technology to add value to agricultural produce, which is expected to increase livelihood opportunities for farmers, entrepreneurs and labourers. It will comprise: (a) Provision of training to a group of senior field staff of the provincial departments of agriculture of north, north-central and east Sri Lanka, and (b) Provision of research support for about six postgraduate students of the faculty of agriculture of Jaffna and Eastern universities. TNAU hopes to obtain funding from South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). The TNAU team and I have jointly prepared a project proposal and submitted to the concerned authorities in Sri Lanka for clearance to conduct the two programmes.
I acknowledge with appreciation the enormous contribution of Dr E Vadivel and his team of scientists of Tamil Nadu Agricultural University who worked hard to develop the Precision Farming Model to enhance agricultural production. They also interacted with the farmers closely and tirelessly to promote the Model among tens of thousands of farmers. Dr Vadivel’s publication on Precision Farming is attached. I have interacted with Dr Vadivel in person, over the phone and by email on a number of occasions and gained valuable knowledge relating to the Model. I have included many of the findings of TNAU here.
I am also thankful to the TNAU Vice Chancellor and his team for formulating the programme for transfer of agricultural technology.
V Paramanathan BSc Eng; MSc; CEng; MICE
Specialist in Irrigated Agriculture
On behalf of IRDG