The Indian government’s thrust on nano fertilisers coupled with the usage of drones in agriculture is set to spur the growth of the country’s liquid or water-soluble nutrients category. Water soluble fertilisers currently account for a small fraction of the overall crop nutrient market and are estimated to be at around ₹3,000 crore.

“Liquid fertiliser category is currently small and will become big going forward. The use of drones will create a separate category of crop nutrients,” said Madan Pandey, Managing Director, Zuari Farmhub Ltd, the agri-tech arm of fertiliser major Zuari Agro Chemicals Ltd.

Zuari Farmhub proposes to invest in having its own fleet of 30-40 drones this year to spray crop protection and nutrients, offering it as a service through its Jai Kisaan Junctions, and its off-line stores. The company, which has crop-specific soluble nutrients for commercial crops such as grapes and pomegranates, is expanding its portfolio to include more crops like chillies and other horticulture produce, Pandey said. For Zuari Farmhub, water-soluble nutrients account for about 40 per cent of its sales.

Now via drip, sprinklers

Water soluble nutrients are currently being applied through drip irrigation and sprinklers and the deployment of drones will be going to drive liquid fertiliser category. While nano urea has already been launched by IFFCO, the nano DAP is expected to be launched soon. “Nano, as a category, is going to grow and farmers after realising the benefits will go from generic to specific nutrients,” Pandey said.

As precision farming takes off, the use of drones will promote the balanced application of nutrients while minimising the use of pesticides. “This is an entirely new product line and the manner in which it is getting sprayed itself is far more in uniform manner compared to the manual spraying. The amount of pesticide is far lesser when compared to the manual spraying,” said Agnishwar Jayaprakash, Founder and CEO, Garuda Aerospace.

“Also, depending on the crop diseases and as we encounter climate change, there are lot more innovations that are coming up on that front. We are working with 350 senior scientists of Indian Council of Agricultural Research, whose job is to understand crops, what needs to be done and what dilution ratio for what geographical locations, etc. All of these things are loaded on to the software that Garuda Aerospace is building to make drones more autonomous. Our drones are about 80 per cent autonomous. We are not depending on the skill level of the pilot and we are looking to make drones smarter. Like how there are smart phones, there will be smart drones from Garuda,” he said.

Changes in formulation

Hemendra Mathur, an agri investor and industry expert, said with the application medium changing from manual to drone, products will be formulated on the basis of medium and people have started creating a new category of products for water soluble fertilisers. “We are going to see that transformation and it’s a matter of time,” Mathur said adding that drones will help reduce farmers’ exposure to chemicals by 100 per cent.

Kalyan Goswami, Director General, Agro Chem Federation of India, said the same category of crop protection chemicals would be utilised through drones. While a separate category won’t have to be developed, there may be a bit of changes in the formulation as per the requirement, Goswami said.

Durgesh C Sharma, Secretary General, CropLife India, said, “In order to fast track the drone adoption in India, the Government has granted interim approval of all registered insecticides and fungicides formulations (except herbicides) as the registered agrochemicals are effective even while being used via Kisan Drones. Many of our members are already undertaking studies as per the guidelines specified by CIB&RC of the existing formulations to continue their usage via Kisan Drones. Drones are an alternate mode of spray and their enhanced adoption will be guided by reduction of contact with humans, cost and efficiency to spray crop protection chemicals with low water usage.”

Sharma said, “The Government of India is providing subsidy for the purchase of drones for agricultural activities, and the decision to give interim approval to the knapsack registered crop protection chemicals shall boost the utilisation of Kisan Drones”.