Dr. Venugopal Mikkilineni, Scientist
Agriculture is the age old practice of farming for growing crops and for rearing of animals. Agriculture has evolved over time and has provided for betterment of human race. Agriculture is dependent on a wide variety of complex factors and has always been the art and science of predicting the outcome based on the complex interaction of factors. Over the ages, farmers have successfully cultivated land for farming and reared animals based on inputs that were easily available to them and based on ancestral knowledge and intuition. Recent technology advances in the digital capture of data in agriculture is likely to cause a paradigm shift in the way we breed for new varieties/hybrids and how farmers practice agriculture. Today we can understand the genetic makeup of plants through sequencing. We can measure the quantity of metabolites and proteins that are produced by plants throughout the developmental stages. We can understand the physical state of the plant or how a plant “looks” through high resolution images with simple mobile cameras to more complex images generated by drones and satellites. We can gain insights into the physiological state of the plant or how a plant “feels” by knowing the canopy temperature, spectral properties and many other parameters measured with new sensors and instruments. To assess the soil and climate changes, myriad sensors are available to measure and capture the data on a real time basis. Therefore breeders and farmers have many more tools at their disposal today than at any other time in the history of agriculture. We are at the cross roads of big digital data revolution that has thrown open new challenges, to analyze, understand and make accurate interpretations and predictions. Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology along with cognitive and machine learning algorithms, has now made possible the analyses of all the complex and often unrelated variables together and develop generative models that would not be humanly possible. Coupled with the availability of real time market data, farmers would be able to maximize the return on crop cultivation. AI will be the future digital nerve center for agriculture where AI enabled “Chatbots” would be able to converse with the farmers in the natural language using the Internet of Things (IoT)./> Another potential challenge that AI can help tackle in the future is the availability of labour in rural areas. World Urbanization Report by United Nations projects that 66% of world population will migrate to urban areas by 2050. Therefore in future, it is possible for AI technology to augment the traditional farming skills and methods and address the likely future labor shortages. Therefore AI would help agriculture become a more profitable enterprise by optimizing on the use of resources and achieve higher productivity with fewer inputs. In the recent times, the government of India has initiated significant reforms in agriculture policies. This effort will strengthen the base of Indian agriculture scenario. Prime Minister Shri. Narendra Modi’s ‘Digital India’ initiative will contribute largely in making India tech-savvy! Exciting times lie ahead and in future the challenge for Indian farmers is to embrace the technological change with open arms, and for the ecosystem of innovation to grow and flourish.