A button pressed on a smartphone in Shimla activates the sprinkler irrigation system in an apple orchard nearly 100 kms away in Himachal Pradesh. Besides the irrigation facility, the mobile application installed on the smartphone helps to control temperature, humidity and also monitors any trespassing activities in the orchard located in Madavag village of the state, which is also known as one of the richest villages in Asia.
A conventional method would demand the physical presence of doing multiple farming activities to ensure the growth of crops. However, Tejasvi Dogra, a lawyer, has made use of technology to be able to work on his farm remotely. “I practice law in Shimla, and it is not possible for me to travel the distance daily or even make frequent visits to my farm. So, I integrated Alexa (a smart speaker that uses speech recognition to complete tasks) with a set of microprocessors and programmed it to my smartphone to remote operate my farm,” Tejasvi says.
The lawyer has orchards spread across 25 acres of land in the village. Last year Tejasvi decided to adopt new techniques of growing apples in half-an-acre of land, which translated to the high-density plantation of 250 apple trees of Red Velox and Dark Baron Gala varieties imported from Italy.
Traditional plantation demands a distance of 20 feet between two trees. However, since the varieties are dwarf and the plant is smaller and bears more fruit, Tejasvi decided to experiment with the plants and bring scientific technology into farming methods.
He programmed the system and connected it to the internet to automatically water the plants once the soil’s moisture is lowered. Thus maintaining the temperature of orchards according to seasons. The orchard also has cameras installed to monitor the activities.
Having an interest in electronics and developing it as a hobby since childhood, Tejasvi decided to use his skills to develop an innovative system.
Explaining the reason for innovation in the orchard, he says, “The competition in apple farming has increased with foreign varieties entering Indian markets. To stay afloat, and maintain international standards of quality, a more scientific approach towards farming is needed.”
Tejasvi adds that bringing technological intervention in farming also makes it much less labour intensive.
Saves the big bucks
“An average cost of daily labour in an apple orchard is Rs 600 per day. This amount scales up to Rs 1.8 lakh a year. And if I have even three labours, the cost of labour becomes unaffordable,” the lawyer says.
Speaking about other challenges, Tejasvi says that labourers may not always be trusted to “honestly do their jobs”. “There will be compromises or delay or absence to attend the field by labourers. The technology helps to achieve better outputs with a lesser workforce,” he says, adding, “As the system is remotely operated, I can practically use it from any part of the globe.”
The orchardist claims the sample quality produced this year has been satisfactory and of good quality. “It indicates that the harvest next year could be even better. The growth of the plants with the help of technological intervention has shown better health and growth as compared to the other plants in the orchard,” Tejsavi tells The Better India.
The lawyer expects a 10 to 15% increase in harvest along with quality improvement because of his technological interventions. The only issue with technology here is the steady supply of electricity and internet connection. Tejasvi is now developing the technology further to understand pH value and other nutrient contents of the soil. “I am open to sharing the technology to other farmers with no intent to commercialise it,” he adds.
In the current COVID-19 situation, the chief minister of Maharashtra, Uddhav Thackeray, a few weeks ago expressed that farmers should be able to work from home. And Tejasvi’s experiment is the epitome of remote farming, given that farmers are equipped with the right technology.