He holds the record for the highest banana yield in the country - 110 tonnes per hectare in 2003. D.K. Mahajan, from Waghoda village in Maharashtra's Jalgaon District, was able to achieve this feat only because he embraced precision farming way back in 2002. "Precision farming makes agriculture profitable," he says.
Indeed, it does. Mahajan, who had 12 hectares under cultivation in 1994, has 24 hectares now, having bought more land from his profits. Precision farming is a need-based, resourceefficient form of agriculture. "In a country where almost everything associated with agriculture is ad hoc, precision is a desirable quality," says M.S. Swaminathan, Chairman of the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation, Chennai.
Traditional farming is imprecise. Everything from choice of seeds, their spacing, use of inputs such as water, fertilisers, pesticides, and time of harvest is governed by tradition rather than need. This has made farming a risky business in India, with yields a tenth that of many other countries. The United States and Mexico's wheat output, for instance, is seven times that of India.
2.5 million no. of Indian farmers who have taken to precision farming.
"India faces a huge challenge in feeding its rising population - it needs to double current foodgrain output by 2050, with little scope to increase land under agriculture. Precision farming is a great opportunity," says Alok Adholeya, Director of the Biotechnology and Bioresources division at The Energy and Resources Institute, Delhi. "What we need is farming with highest efficiency."
Precision farming starts with testing, to determine the level of nutrients in the soil. After the results are evaluated, organic manure is applied to the soil, to boost its organic content. Next, quality seeds or seedlings are sowed, following specific crop geometry.
Irrigation follows but through drips rather than by flooding the soil. Fertilisers are also delivered through the drip system. As the crop grows, it is checked for diseases, and pesticides applied as needed. The process optimises inputs and increases yields substantially. A precision farming project promoted by Tamil Nadu Agricultural University saw yields rising 60 to 200 per cent for a number of vegetables and fruit.
The 2.5 million farmers - of 125 million in the country - who have adopted precision farming have seen a sharp increase in their output. Even so, the Indianised form of precision farming is a lot less technology-dependent than the kind practised abroad and is thus less capital-intensive. But despite the clear benefits, its spread has been slow.
Maharashtra's Jalgaon district is leading the way in adopting it. Before its farmers took to precision farming in a big way, it ranked poorly among the state's 35 districts in urbanisation levels. Today it is the third most urbanised district inthe state, as its villages, thanks to increased earnings from precision farming, get richer and acquire urban features.N. Madhavan