Published on 11/07/2016 | Market Sizing
A farmer’s son may not be born to be a farmer; in fact every generation of farmer is growing smaller than the previous one. The world on the other hand will add 2 billion more people by 2050 according to this treatise.
I am reminded of those farmers in Australia or Canada or Northern Europe, who have such dearth of hands that it is technology that they warmly embrace than their nearest kin to survive and prosper. Things are no different in India or China, where urbanization draws people away from farming. The economics of farming, especially of marginal farming, also do not provide any evidence that to stick to farming would help them progress better in their lives.
The farmer is straddled with a piece of land which has its limits to arability, while the weather could be the most complex piece in his equation and the hands or equipment is so much more limited by the demands of urbanization. Needs of fresh water in agriculture will continue to take away 70% of world’s fresh water, and there is no reason to believe that the farmer will get a priority to enjoy the benefits of fresh water over others.
The soil tests are never done dynamically or the presence of pest on the soil is also not known in real time. Both of these are vital elements of information for the farmer. The amount of water that would be needed to make a good crop yield is never known dynamically and the use of either nutrients or pest control is a matter of ritual, almost like a `fixed cost, applied year after year, without any relation to the actual needs of farming. The animals in the farm and their tracking on a number of parameters leave a lot to be desired.
The world around, agriculture is moving towards a very complex nature of objective functions, where each of these functions influence output in more than one ways. The farmer must estimate his crop yield so as to balance his budgets, while he has to work against a range of inputs whose values could be variable and uncertain, from weather, to soil data that create interactions between various other parameters that will influence output.
The Internet of Things makes a striking connection to these problems of the farmer. First of all through sensors and GPS, it is possible to collect real time data and store that data in the cloud and then through applications it is possible to get a set of interactive software to provide a decision support system to the farmer for taking decisions on:
- Which seeds and what quality
- How much water
- How much nutrient
- What pest control and when
- How to estimate crop yield
- Which markets to serve and at what price targets
- How to arrange for the most optimum transportation
- How to partner with what technology & equipment partner
- How to measure productivity of output for land, water use or equipment use on a dynamic basis
The farmer is now no more a symbol of hard labor; he is actually empowered by some very powerful tools that connect his soil and its ingredients with the unknown things like weather, water scarcity, insect control or nutrients needed and timing of a number of things that influence the yield.
The amount of time that we spend deliberating about how much rainfall we would get this season, if half of the time was spent to organize the tools for the farmer so that he is already aware and taking proactive actions to tackle some of the ensuing problems, we would have done far better to enable the farmer. These tools are getting sharper with IOT when it is possible to connect these various disparate elements in farming to one single platform where the farmer can actually see the objective functions in a manner so that he would be able take informed decisions on a range of things.
The farmer is not hapless that there is so much at stake with the amount of rainfall. He is hapless because all these tools are not at his disposal today. He is not prepared better, but relying on luck.
Luck, by the way, is a matter of preparation and IOT makes him better prepared.
For small marginal farmers, this will move in steps, it may not happen overnight. With farmers with land of 5 to 10 hectares, it is not very far away that partnerships to get the benefits of platform through mobile handsets will be a reality. For large farms and with organized farming it is already a reality. The cost is coming down dramatically and with platforms where costs can be shared over large numbers, it is a matter of time that these would be available at fraction of the costs.
The beauty of all this is that there is no back-end work needed as that has been replaced by the apps on the mobile. The connectivity across India is improving dramatically and it is not very far when every piece of arable land will be connected by a network that would make it possible for farmers to get information of not only his own piece of land but also about what could be happening elsewhere.
The connectedness of the farming community has a lot to be desired and today technology is making that happen. The biggest benefits will come from knowledge of markets and that of scarcity and surplus, which drive the fortunes of the farmers. It would be possible for the farmer to directly deal with the end consumer, especially when transportation economics would be at his disposal.
IOT is not to be mixed with productivity per se and the hearsay of ‘lost hands’. In fact it is the other way, the missing hands in farming will be replaced by technology, without which the enormity of the task will remain unattended, that of feeding more than 7 billion people with healthy food and in an economic manner that does not make the farmer poor at the expense of the others.