IT professionals as ‘Agripreneurs’: Smart farming for the smart set 

Post-COVID-19 crisis will provide an opportunity to usher in yet another technological revolution in Agriculture

 IT professionals as ‘Agripreneurs’: Smart farming for the smart set 

Abhijit Roy

The Internet of Cattle might sound like taking technology a bit too far; but not for an Australian farmer in Queensland or a French farmer in Normandy who use apps to track their livestock in real time. There are other appsthat add even more value to the business by tracking health and food intake of cattle. Any deviation in temperature, food intake or yield triggers an alert.

In Algeria soil probes were placed along an irrigation line collecting information about the soil from a 120cm depth to the surface. Data for soil temperature, humidity, volumetric water content, water evaporation or salinity were collected and analysed to let the famerto accurately manage irrigation cycles and soil nutrition deployment. After just one month, the farmer was able to reduce water consumption by 40% on a single irrigation line for one hectare and his revenue went up by 5% per hectare.

As India grapples with the massively adverse economic impact of the COVID19 pandemic crisis, the country needs a fresh focus on improving agricultural productivity and farmer efficiency. When factories are under lockdown, the farms are continuing to yield the crops.

There is a huge opportunity waiting to be unleashed with the convergence of technology and agriculture. Technologies like Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence, Data Science, Satellite Communications and Mobility have the potential to increase agricultural productivity exponentially.

Large-scale introduction of technology in this sector, can also reverse the talent flow from agriculture to other sectors and migration to cities in search of livelihood. If the curriculum in central and state agricultural universities are urgently revised to include relevant technology training, then we will have tech-enabled smart farmers as a new talent force in addition to our IT employees .

The focus should be on hands-on technology education to show farmers the real benefits of adopting technology. The government needs to create a funding strategy to create this talent pool. It might also be possible to offer IT professionals an alternative career as agripreneurs.

The Green Revolution in India in 1965 led to an increase in food grain production. Major milestones were the development of high-yielding varieties of wheat and rust resistant strains of wheat.

Operation Flood, launched on January, 13, 1970, was another landmark project of India’s National Dairy Development Board (NDDB), the world’s biggest dairy development programme. It transformed India from a milk-deficient nation into the world’s largest milk producer, surpassing the US in 1998, with about 17% of global output in 2010–11.

In 30 years, it doubled milk available per person, and made dairy farming India’s largest self-sustainable rural employment generator. Technology played a part in both.

Leveraging AI, IoT, Drones, Satellite Communications, 5G and Mobility, India can relaunch another revolution to create ‘agripreneurs’ or agricultural entrepreneurs. We need to make agriculture a viable career option that is as glamorous as the IT profession.

The digitalisation of agriculture can also help make farming more attractive to young people with the concept of Smart Farming. According to the Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) the APAC Agriculture IoT market stood at $0.12 billion in 2018 and is anticipated to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 27.4% between 2018 to 2025 to reach $0.65 billion by 2025.

In some parts of the world, farmers are approaching retirement age, and there is a need to attract younger people into the industry. The ability to use a phone or tablet to remotely control processes and devices increases the speed of decision making as well as offering more flexibility to farmers and their employees.

Connected devices make it possible to gather large amounts of data that can be used to optimise processes and increase understanding of relevant agricultural parameters such as humidity, local rainfall and temperature variations. Another benefit is that they help farmers to minimise (or even eliminate) the use of fertilisers, pesticides and other chemicals, thereby reducing the amount that make their way into lakes and waterways.

eSIM cards will play a crucial role in the smart farming solutions of the future. Integrating them into different kinds of farming equipment makes it much easier to manage a product throughout its lifecycle, which makes it easier for farming equipment providers to deploy smart farming solutions. Equipment that contains eSIM cards automatically senses its location via the cellular network and can receive its own software updates.

It is expected that automation solutions (e.g. drones and agribots) for other tasks like spraying and seeding will experience increased adoption in the short-to-medium term as regulations catch up with the rapidly-maturing technology.

Technology-enabled Smart Farming will not only be producing more crops, but will generate Big Data, on which we will run analytics to forecast yield, possibilities of disruptions, incorporate weather patterns into agricultural practices and completely transform this industry. Yes, agriculture needs industrial scale adoption of technology, training and best practices to rejuvenate the economies of the world. We have done it before and can do it again.

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