When we think of technology, we think of robots, automation, artificial intelligence, etc. that make our life easy and convenient. Little do we think about the intervention of technology in the field of agriculture. Agritech is the application of technology and technological innovations in agriculture. With the world population projected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050, agritech is going to play a crucial role. But before we talk about the new product development in agritech, let’s understand some of the challenges in agriculture and how technology plays a crucial role in solving those challenges.
Challenges in Agriculture
Land management: As the population keeps increasing, farmers have been engaging in intensive farming to the growing population of the world. This means that more synthetic pesticides, insecticides, and fertilizers are used on the soil, which reduces soil fertility. Hence, more fertilizers are needed to be added to restore the soil quality. Additionally, all the synthetic fertilizers that are used in agriculture, seep in slowly in the nearby water sources.
Effect on the climate: As we embrace intensive agriculture to meet the growing population’s demand, more forest lands are being reclaimed. Along with reducing forest cover, it also increases the greenhouse effect, thus increasing the temperature. Climate change not only affects us, but it affects crops too.
Change in biodiversity: With forest land transforming quickly into agricultural lands, there has been a major impact on the local flora and fauna, thus creating an imbalance in the biodiversity.
How Technology is Solving Agricultural Issues
Drones and satellites: Drones and satellites have a lot of roles to play in solving agricultural challenges. For example, drones can provide food security to the growing population of the world. It helps to maximize crop production by promoting pollination, replicating the activities of bees. Drones can fire seeds into the ground, thus helping to sow seeds at a much faster rate than any other existing devices or human efforts.
With the help of thermal cameras, drones can keep track of remote livestock pastures, watch for predators, and keep a check on the livestock’s health. The Near Infra-Red (NIR) sensors are capable of determining the plant’s health based on light absorption. This helps farmers take preventive measures and intervene on time to restore the plant’s health, resulting in better and higher yields of crops.
Drones also help to keep crop diseases at bay. For example, Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) can evaluate crop diseases and thus provide critical information to the farmers. It can also spray herbicides where needed instead of covering all the crops with herbicides.
Big -data and blockchain in agriculture: Blockchain has been revolutionizing various industries, and the agriculture sector is not left behind. Leveraging blockchains, consumers can now know how the produce originated that they are going to consume. Blockchain also helps to reduce the intervention of middlemen, thus reducing the price of the goods.
Technology in farm maintenance: Robotics and automated farm maintenance machinery play an essential role in locating the produce precisely, optimize irrigation, select the right crops to harvest, and more. Traditionally these processes are done manually, which takes a lot of time and effort, while with a little bit of technology, the whole process can be speeded up.
IoT-based sensors: Different IoT-based sensors are used in agriculture that helps farmers with critical information about weather, soil condition, thus allowing them to optimize crop yields.
Smart farming: One of the most prominent uses of tech in agriculture is smart farming. Smart agriculture is a method where farming is optimized by previous research, inspection, and data. Some of the common techniques used in smart agriculture include:
Precision farming: To make precise farming decisions on the nature of the crop or the farmland tract, drones, sensors, satellites are used to gather data.
Automated irrigation: Automated irrigation helps to have better yield while at the same time it helps save cost on energy, and at the same time conserves the environment.
Hydroponics: Hydroponics is the method of growing crops without involving soil. In this method, the exact amount of water and nutrients are provided in precision. Since there is no soil needed to grow produces, the hydroponics method can help grow crops anywhere, especially on a vertical farm.
Vertical farming: This is another modern concept of farming where crops are grown in the vertical layer. Lighting supplements and appropriate water irrigation systems are used to water the plants. Vertical farming is popular in places where farming lands are scarce. The method is easy and encourages farmers to adopt it.
Leveraging weather forecast systems: Different crops thrive under different weather conditions. Knowing the weather in advance with the weather forecast system’s help, farmers can choose the right time for sowing seeds.
UAV can evaluate crop diseases and thus provide critical information to the farmers. It can also spray herbicides where needed instead of covering all the crops with herbicides.
Benefits of Agritech
With the rise in agriculture, especially organic farming, organic fertilizers, mulch, and compost all come into use. Agritech can help to a great extent in the production of these.
While many farmers are adopting integrated farming, technology can help them explore different opportunities.
Hydroponics is encouraging farmers and home gardeners to consider soilless agriculture. Agritech is also encouraging farmers to grow more crops in limited land with better yields.
New Agritech Product Developments in India
Agritech is leading the next green revolution in India. With several startups leading from the forefront, many incubators are encouraging and promoting technology innovation in agriculture, especially in rural India. Some of the new agritech product development is happening in automation, IoT, AI/ML, data science, etc.
For example, SatSure, an agritech company, has been working in satellite image processing, big data capabilities, and IT in agriculture. The company has mobile app platforms focused on delivering information on supply statistics of crops and crop stressing. Thus, farmers have better visibility on what to sow when to sow, and such critical information can help them make better products and earn more.
Another agritech company, Fasal, is helping farmers by offering microclimate forecasts customized on a point-scale basis. The startup collects data on which their AI-based microclimate forecasting algorithm includes real-time in-field information. The real-time actionable inputs help farmers to take preventive measures on a day-to-day basis in their farms.
Gobasco, another agritech startup, works on real-time data analytics on data streams that they source from multiple channels. Their solution is backed by AI-optimized automated pipelines, which improve the agriculture supply chain.
Internet, AI, and shared services are used extensively in agritech space to help farmers with precision agriculture technologies backed by real-time synchronization of supply and demand. Aibono is one such agritech company that is assisting farmers extensively in this area.
Over the last few years, many online platforms have come into existence, which help farmers, enterprises, governments, traders, and banks to connect online. AgriBazaar is one such online platform that works on a traditional “mandi” model on a digital platform. It allows small farmers and merchants to directly buy and sell farm produce without the involvement of middlemen.
Agritech Trends to Keep an Eye on
The first thing to focus on is crop monitoring technologies for improving agricultural outcomes. The agribusinesses can highly benefit from on-farm data and agronomy management technology along with basic digitization to leverage data.
Companies with a strong digital foothold will have a competitive advantage in solving the growing needs of both the growers and the consumers.
With innovative technologies like remote sensing, image recognition software, and satellite technology, one can monitor farmlands from anywhere in the world. Leveraging such technologies, farm managers can provide real-time inputs to the farmers and suggest proactive measures.
Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning in Agriculture
With remote monitoring of fields becoming a reality, farm managers, farmers, government agencies are now better positioned to make more informed decisions. These decisions are now based on data, thanks to advanced data analytics tools available to the farmers. Apart from making informed decisions, farmers can also have real-time inputs that will impact the same crop cycle.
The recent advancement in AI / ML technologies is allowing farmers to embrace intelligent food productions. Food production is now becoming both traceable and climate-resilient. Technologies like machine learning and deep learning are helping agro-businesses to mine agri data. For example, farmers now know precisely which trait of crops is best suited for better yield. Thus, they can now choose the right seeds and need not depend on the trial-and-error method.
With innovative technologies like remote sensing, image recognition software, and satellite technology, one can monitor farmlands from anywhere in the world.
Agritech Startups in India: The New Ray of Hope
The agro-industry has been a loss-making industry for the majority of the farmers. But, for the last few years, agritech startups are mushrooming all over India, trying to bridge the gap and fix issues like low landholding, lack of sophisticated technologies, or underwriting loans. Some of the prominent agritech startups to watch out for in 2021 include:
Agrowave: This Delhi-based startup uses mobile pickup stations to reach the farmers at the farm gates. The firm reaches out to farmers in remote corners of the country, buys fresh produces, and sells directly to businesses like restaurants, cafes, etc. They are building a farm-to-market mobility supply chain through a network of mobile pickup stations at farm gates.
BharatAgri: This Pune-based startup provides end-to-end decision-making support to the farmers. The company offers tech-enabled services to mid and large-sized farmers who are mainly into cash crop production. Their app-based platforms provide inputs like real-time monitoring, weather-based advisory, and personalized advisories using data science. They work on a subscription-based model. However, the reach of smartphones and internet technology to rural India is a concern for this model’s success.
BigHaat: This Bengaluru-based startup is an online agri-input distribution platform. This next-gen agritech startup leverages data and offers high-quality inputs to the farm including crop advisory. It has also been leveraging different digital channels to engage the farmers.
Bijak: Bijak is a Delhi-based B2B marketplace for farmers, middlemen, and food producers. It has a user-friendly app used by agritech startups, aggregators, processors, traders, and everyone.
Clover Ventures: This Bengaluru-based startup offers full-stack agronomy solutions to greenhouse farmers, thus improving and standardizing output quality. This startup supports farmers in peri-urban and rural areas, thus ensuring consumers receive fresh yields and no spoilage.
The Future of Agritech in India
As more startups continue to invest in agritech to provide real-time solutions for agricultural issues, the future of agritech in India looks promising. The future of agritech needs to focus more on sustainable methods and move away from depending heavily on chemical processes. Irrigation facilities are still lagging in this country, although the government has created separate funds for improving the irrigation system. It will be good to see how technology can help reduce the farmers’ dependence on rainfall for better crop yields. With more and more people becoming conscious and acknowledging the agriculture industry’s requirements, more investors and startup founders are coming forward to invest in new product development for this sector.