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Interviews

FarmPrecise App is Precisely What Farmers Need Right Now

Watershed Organisation Trust (WOTR), a globally recognized organization dedicated to changing the lives of millions of poor villagers across India through participatory watershed development, ecosystem restoration and climate-resilient sustainable agriculture. 

Climate change and increasing weather uncertainty have made agriculture and farming a high-risk gamble. Rising costs of agricultural inputs, low and declining productivity, market volatility, low returns, and erratic weather patterns are making farming an unviable source of livelihoods and income, especially for smallholder farmers, who constitute at least 85% of the farming community in India. 

To address these challenges, WOTR has developed a mobile application, “FarmPrecise” that provides farmers a weather-based, dynamic decision support system they can customize to their specific crops and farm resources across key agricultural operations. This initiative is being supported by Qualcomm Inc. under their Wireless Reach Programme. 

In this Interview, Ajay Shelke, Deputy General Manager, WOTR, talks about the FarmPrecise App – Precisely what farmers need! 

How is Climate change affecting the Small & Marginal Farmers of India? What are the major challenges? 

Climate change and increasing weather uncertainty has made agriculture and farming a high-risk gamble. Rising costs of agricultural inputs, low and declining productivity, market volatility, low returns and erratic weather patterns are making farming an unviable source of livelihoods and income, especially for smallholder farmers, who constitute at least 85% of the farming community in India. Further, extensive use of high-cost chemical inputs and excessive use of water is degrading the environment while polluting and depleting the groundwater table. This ultimately affects nature, health, agricultural viability and overall societal wellbeing. 

How advanced technology is helping them to deal with climate change? 

Traditionally, agriculture in India is highly dependent on nature, but farming is becoming unpredictable due to climate and global warming. Therefore, there is a need to create awareness among the farmers about using modern technology and innovative approaches to improve productivity and making agriculture profitable. 

Technology is playing a major role in farming and agriculture practices, and with the advancements in digital technology, there is a wider scope farmers adopting these technologies. Use of digital and analytic tools helps in making improvements in agriculture, and the signs are positive, more and more farmers have already started using these technologies to improve crop yields and increase income.

Technology in agriculture helps in many areas, such as fertilizers, pesticides, seed technology, etc. Mechanization is also helping in efficient tilling, harvesting, and a reduction in manual labor. Many progressive farmers started adopting advanced technologies for Irrigation and transportation, processing machinery, etc. But there is a need of a technologies which are affordable, especially for the smallholder farmers not only making them climate resilient but drive them to adopt a precision agriculture approach. 

What is the Farm Precise app all about? Tell us about its features and how it is helping the farmers 

To address the challenges, WOTR has developed a mobile application, “FarmPrecise” that provides farmers a weather-based, dynamic decision support system they can customise to their specific crops and farm resources across key agricultural operations. This initiative is being supported by Qualcomm Inc. under their Wireless Reach Programme. 

The App provides,  

  • Weather Based Dynamic Advisories - considers observed/forecasted weather conditions, crop phenology and soil status to generate farm-level crop management advisories; 

  • is interactive - the farmer inputs specific data, identifies the problem and co-evolves solutions that can be shared; 

  • offers solutions that are nature-lite, increase productivity, reduce losses and lower costs; 

  • includes market price information and 

  • upgrades the knowledge and skill set of the farmer.

Following are the features that are currently available in the FarmPrecise 

  • Weather Forecast Alerts for 5 days, from multiple data sources, namely, IMD and OpenWeather, enables farmers to make informed decisions. Recommendations to apply/spray fertilisers or pesticides are driven by 3 hourly weather forecasts thus reducing weather-health risks (wrt to pesticide use).

  • Irrigation Advisory which includes advisories depending on crop water requirements, soil and weather conditions. We will be incorporating Remote Sensing data for to provide precise advisories shortly.

  • Fertiliser Calculator helps farmers calculate exact amount of fertiliser to use by inputting soil test reports & the farm yard manure (FYM) they plan to add. Algorithms offers multiple combinations of fertilisers and doses from which farmers can choose based on local availability and costs. In addition, organic and biological products that are locally preparable/ available are recommended.

  • Integrated Pest & Disease Management: For preventive measures, we recommend use of nature-based formulations/ cultural operations based on crop phenology and the related agro-climatic zone, thus reducing potential losses. Chemical measures are advised only when the infestation crosses the Economic Threshold Level.

  • Intercultural practices: Package of local practices based on crop phenology and related agro climatic zone.

  • Community Forum for Expert Consultation: Farmers interact with agronomists, and other progressive farmers who have faced similar issues and seek a timely solution. They post photos of crop issues, receive diagnosis and potential remediation.

  • Farm Diary helps maintain records of inputs & expenses in the farm. This data becomes valuable over years to understand what works, optimise inputs and increase farm productivity and income.

  • Farm Boundary: Farmers provide geo-fenced information of their farms which enables application of remote sensing and other data sets. This helps target and customise advisories.

  • Market Prices provides the latest prices of various crops in the markets nearby bridging the information gap. 

  • News section helps farmers in keeping abreast with all the latest activities taking place in the agriculture sector including government schemes, events and more.

How many downloads you have seen so far from the launch, and how is the response of the farmers in adapting the technological tool for farming. 

Over 50000 users have downloaded the App and used to receive advisories to manage their farmers. Over 2600 farmers posted their problems on the Community forum. Over 19,000 users have referred to weather advice and 23,000 users check out the latest market prices of various commodities in their local market. 15-20% increased crop productivity; 10-15% reduced costs of cultivation 

The App promotes integrated nutrient management which includes application of organic fertilisers like farmyard manure or city compost in addition to inorganic fertilisers that maintains organic carbon in the soil.  

Advisories cover integrated pest and disease management practices which includes application of herbicides and bio pesticides like Dashparni Ark which is made from locally available materials that prevents pest or disease attack. Only if the attack crosses Economic Threshold Level (ETL), App recommends chemical control solutions keeping harmful residues to the minimum and helping in maintaining and improving the soil health. 

Advisories are generated dynamically based on weather conditions such as delaying application of nutrients or spraying if there is heavy rain forecast so as to reduce the chances of runoff and wastage. Combination of above helps farmers reduce input costs significantly, and reduce the negative impact on soil, water and other natural resources in the environment thus enabling sustainable agriculture.  

What other features are you thinking to add in your app in the coming future? 

Following are few upcoming features that will be available in FarmPrecise. 

Pest & Disease Image Recognition using AI/ML

We have developed an Image Recognition model for detection of pests and diseases based on Deep Learning technology. The model is currently under closed group testing covering automated recognition of around 20 pests or diseases and providing good amount of accuracy. The objective is to automatically recognise plant issues and respond immediately to farmers to take appropriate remediation measures on time and reduce the loss in productivity. In the absence of skilled agriculture experts or entomologists, AI can help scale quality solutions at very marginal cost in identifying plant issues.      

Farmer – FPO Interface

This feature will be the interface between the Farmer Producer organisations and the farmers in their catchment area, which will help FPOs to take informed decision with regard to input and output market connect. 

Satellite based Farm Level Agro Advisories

Satellite based farm level advisories will be provided to the farmers based on the remote sensing data. This will help farmers to identify the areas of the farms which are under stress so they can take corrective actions to overcome such stresses. Precise advisories with regard to irrigation, nutrient and pest management will be provided. 

Livestock Advisories

Livestock are key drivers for sustainable development in agriculture. They contribute to food security, nutrition, poverty alleviation, and economic growth. We are coming with a feature which will provide advisories to the livestock owner for better management of their livestock. 

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