Farm and construction equipment manufacturer Escorts Ltd launched an automated concept tractor, designed for precision farming. The prototype driverless tractor, which the company also calls a smart tractor, is able to automate operations like ploughing and seeding, company officials said. Nikhil Nanda, Chairman and Managing Director at Escorts, said the model could see commercial launch in less than two years.
Explaining the technology, Shenu Agarwal, Chief Executive of Escorts Agri Machinery said the concept tractor is able to automate about 80 percent of the operations. “The tractor uses geo-fencing to map a crop field and via auto steering can drive in a straight line carrying out ploughing and seeding operations,” Agarwal further added, “planting of seeds are precise with this technology as it takes into account soil moisture levels. This can boost crop productivity by 10-15 percent .”
To develop the prototype automated tractor, Escorts collaborated with several technology giants such as Microsoft, Wabco, Bosch, AVL, Reliance Jio, and Trimble. The technologies involve electric transmission, remote vehicle management, data-based soil and crop management and sensor-based guided farm applications.
Escorts did not reveal the likely price of the tractor. However, Nanda said the company is focusing on pay-per-use models where farmers need not own expensive machinery. “We make tractors but we are also focusing on providing end-to-end mechanization services to farmers... we are telling farmers they do not have to buy a tractor, we will take over the entire mechanization and provide you trained operators,” Nanda said adding, “our aim is to bring smart farming solutions which are real-time and affordable.”
Towards this, the company has launched Escorts Crop Solutions to provide farmers the entire range of services related to farm mechanization. Escorts has also launched a rental app called TRAXI were owners of farm machinery can rent them out to interested farmers. Ownership of farm machines remains pitifully low. Only 5.2 percent of agricultural households in India owned a tractor and just 1.8 percent owned a power tiller, showed the NABARD All-India Rural Financial Inclusion Survey (NAFIS) released in August.
During 2017-18, domestic sales in India grew at a robust 22 percent year on year to 711,478 tractors. However, these numbers followed consecutive years of decline in domestic sales in 2014-15 and 2015-16 due to a widespread drought.
In India, where most land holdings are small, less than two hectares in size, many farmers cannot afford tractors and related equipment which costs over 700,000. Further, small land holdings means that owning a tractor does not make business sense as most of the time it lies idle.
As a solution, pay-per-use rental models have gained ground in the past few years. Mahindra & Mahindra, the largest tractor manufacturer in India and companies such as EM3 has launched pay-per-use services. India manufactures the most number of tractors in the world but mechanization levels in domestic farms are among the lowest in the world. According to Escorts’ Agarwal, just about 40 percent of farm holdings in India have access to mechanization.