Automation is finding its way to help farmers get the best out of their yards. Let’s take a look into how the agricultural community of India can benefit from sensor-driven automated setups.
Challenges in manual irrigation
Irrigation is the process of applying the right amount of usable water at the right time to cultivation lands and plants to facilitate the yield of a good volume and variety of crops. There are numerous methods, but in all cases providing the right amount of water at the right time is the common difficult task in manual control.
Under-application of water leads to numerous problems including increased salinity of soil or insufficient moisture content, which might result in wilting of plants, drying of crops, infertile soil due to high salinity or unsatisfactory crop yield. Over-irrigation, i.e., excessive water application, on the other hand, may lead to water-logging in soil for a long time or uneven moisture distribution. The result—incidences of crop rot, insects and pest manifestation, improper crop growth due to lack of essentials like oxygen and minerals, and so on. Additional problems include water wastage, unproductive effort and great loss of money.
Sensors finding their way in
Strategically placed sensors and automated control system can make a great difference. The level of automation varies based on the user’s requirement. The technology can range from simple timer-based controls to Internet of Things (IoT)-driven smart irrigation.
As regards application, sensors are used to read the moisture content and temperature of soil, as also weather conditions like humidity, rainfall and snow, and schedule the irrigation accordingly. Fertigation is another major area of application for sensors and automation. Levels of residual fertilisers, pesticides and other chemicals in the soil are detected by the sensors, based on which components of fertilisers and other chemicals are calculated and scheduled for addition.
In electricity-deficient countries like India, automated systems can be applied to ensure sufficient amount of irrigation in a day, even if power availability is very poor. For example, if a one-hour-scheduled irrigation process is interrupted by a power cut within 30 minutes of action, the automated system will shut down by itself and resume the remaining 30 minutes of process as soon as electricity resumes.
For areas where regular on-field surveillance is difficult to arrange, automated irrigation takes up the charge. GSM-enabled devices help in scheduling as well as remote control of irrigation activities on the field. An IoT-powered setup sends irrigation data to the cloud, from where it can be used for further analytics.
Substantial increase in crop yield and quality. This, of course, is the most vital benefit of automated irrigation. Optimised conditioning of soil and crops greatly influences the yield factor. While improvement in productivity varies, agri-owners can surely expect a yield increase between 15 and 30 per cent.
Swapnil S. Ingole, country manager, Galcon Smart, says, “Automated irrigation can easily increase yield by 30-40 per cent, provided fertigation schedules are properly maintained. A farmer who has been growing an average of 40-50 metric tonnes yield volume manually at best, can expect production of more than 100 metric tonnes with the help of automation. Additionally, optimised use of water and fertiliser greatly improves the quality of the crop or fruit. With higher yield and better quality of produce, one can ensure much better profits in the market.”
Ingole shares the story of their customer Parmeshwar Raut, a landowner based out of Penur village in Solapur district of Maharashtra, who owns 110 acres of cultivation land. The area being large is very difficult to irrigate and maintain manually.
Raut set up a centralised control system provided by Galcon to control the drip irrigation process for their cultivation land. The centralised drip irrigation system operates four pumps throughout the land and performs automated irrigation as per requirement. Since automating irrigation, based on yearly results, the farmer testified an average 40 per cent increase in profit due to increase in crop yield, decrease in fertiliser usage, reduced labour cost and decreased electricity usage.
Save up to 30 per cent of water. Sensor-driven systems ensure that optimal quantity of water is used at the right time, based on the soil moisture content, humidity, rainfall, soil temperature and so on. As a result, automated irrigation can save up to 30 per cent of water usage.
Reduced labour cost, effort and electricity. With automation, agro-owners can save a lot of money, which they otherwise have to invest in manual labour for irrigation. A significant point to focus is erratic power availability. In locations where power is available only during odd hours of the day, hiring a labour for irrigation is not a good idea.
Sensors and automation, on the other hand, resume action as soon as power is back in case the last session of irrigation didn’t complete. This ensures optimal irrigation throughout the day. Additionally, manual labour often uses power-driven systems for irrigation, even when these are not required, wasting electricity.
Lesser manual intervention implies fewer errors. Programmed systems distribute the right amount of ingredients at the right time based on environmental readings picked up by sensors using the right amount of power. The process is accurate—facilitating higher quality and quantity.
Bengaluru-based irrigation automation solution provider Flybird Farm Innovations shares the example of its client Gangadhar, who owns a 5-acre farm for grapes cultivation. Gangadhar faced following problems:
1. Power supply availability only for two hours during daytime and night each was impacting his daily routine as he had to be available in the farm, which was 2 kilometres away from his residence, during those odd hours
2. Uneven availability of water caused problems of over-irrigation as well as under-irrigation, which affected the yield volume and quality. The farmer used Flybird’s low-cost automation system, which included a two-valve irrigation controller. The system controls valves based on the moisture level and rainfall readings of the soil. It automatically turns on when electricity is available and turns off if power cuts off in the middle of the irrigation. It resumes function whenever the power resumes and completes the pending irrigation. Water volume is also accurately distributed as per the program.
Spend less on fertilisers. Sensors detect the amount of fertiliser and chemicals in the soil. When necessary, the system automatically starts the fertigation process and continues until the required amount of fertiliser has been introduced. This prevents overuse of the product and reduces fertiliser usage by 10-30 per cent.
The final word
An automated system is a big boon both to the agri-community and the national economy. Training and guidance for farm-owners and labourers are often arranged by the manufacturers, so practical know-how is not a challenge.