Precision agriculture-the future of farming

Can you describe — in five words or less — how your research work will help people like me, I prod Rahul hesitantly.

“More crop per drop!” he grins without batting an eyelid.

Rahul Raj’s PhD project is titled, ‘Drone-based hyper-spectral sensing for identification of at-risk nitrogen and water stress areas for better on-farm management’. “In this work, we are generating new indices by using hyperspectral bands (400-1000 nm electromagnetic spectrum) to identify the nitrogen and water stress present in plants. Detailed crop biophysical and biochemical parameters are also collected, with which we hope to create a mathematical model for crop nitrogen and water estimation,” he offers by way of explanation.

A research farm equipped with the necessary sensors

Rahul is a research scholar at the IITB-Monash Research Academy, a Joint Venture between IIT Bombay and Monash University which offers a dual-badged PhD from both organisations. He works under the supervision of Prof. J. Adinarayana and Prof. Jeffrey Walker.

“Farming in developing countries like India depends heavily on knowledge passed down through generations” he explains. “Some of this is unscientific, and leads not only to low productivity and degradation of resources but also to an increase in the pesticide residue content in our food, which could affect our health.”

A scientific on-farm management technique can guide the farmer to apply the input resources at the right time, in the right amount, and right quantity. And this is where researchers like Rahul are hoping to make a difference.

“Precision agriculture (PA) is an innovative and integrated approach which will help farmers to make evidence-based decisions at the farm level and ensure optimal use of resources,” he says. “PA marries traditional knowledge with information- and management-intensive technologies and this collaboration will hopefully make the system sustainable, productive, and profitable.”

Numbers are critical to any research project, and Rahul spends a lot of time in the field collecting critical data. “This is challenging, but also essential, because when the researcher collects the data himself, they have a better understanding of the nexus between the different variables.”

Why is this research so important? Rahul outlines four stakeholders that will benefit from his work:

– Farmers — who will be able to ascertain when, where, and how much fertiliser, pesticides and water they need to use;
– Consumers — who will get foodgrains with minimum pesticide residue in their food;
– Startups/companies in the agriculture business — who can attain optimal yield from farms, so that management practices don’t become a bottleneck in supplying food to every plate, and also it will open business opportunities with social impact;
– Researchers/Academicians – who will be motivated to work on inter-disciplinary challenges and opportunities in agriculture

Prof Murali Sastry, CEO, IITB-Monash Research Academy, is among those following Rahul’s work with keen interest. “The Academy provides an opportunity for the industry in Australia and India, as well as for IIT Bombay and Monash University, to train the next generation of talent in India,” he says. “Worldwide, we need to find an effective way to feed 7.7 billion people every day with limited cultivable land at our disposal, and this number is only going to rise. We hope that Rahul Raj and other research scholars from the Academy will provide solutions to these vexing problems.”

Research scholar: Rahul Raj, IITB-Monash Research Academy

Project title: Drone-based hyper-spectral sensing for identification of at-risk N and water stress areas for better on-farm management

Supervisors: Prof. J. Adinarayana and Prof. Jeffrey Walker.

Contact details:

This story was written by Mr Krishna Warrier based on inputs from the research student, his supervisors, and the IITB-Monash Research Academy. Copyright IITB-Monash Research Academy.