Proper encouragement to the manufacture and use of drones in agriculture sector can alter the sector’s landscape in Tamil Nadu in the years to come, according to S Chandramohan, Director and Group President (Finance and Investment), TAFE.

Participating in a panel discussion on “Rejuvenating Tamil Nadu’s Farm Sector” , jointly organised by BusinessLine on Thursday, he said the adoption of drones is triggering a new service model in the country, including Tamil Nadu, where crop input companies along with the drone operators and other value chain stakeholders offer it as a service to the farmer.

Drones can be used for irrigation, fertilization, planting, crop monitoring etc. They can be used for continuos and consistent crop surveillance, he said.

On the use of other technologies, he said the use of four-wheel tractors and rice transplanters is catching up. The cost of manual transplant is around ₹7,000 per acre where as with the rice transplanters it is ₹3,500 per acre. Farmers can save huge money, and labour shortage can be addressed with this, Chandramohan said.

Role of FPOs

Welcoming the Tamil Nadu’s plans to establish around 1,100 FPOs (farmer producer organisations), Aleen Mukherjee, COO of NICR and Head FPO Strategy of NCDEX, said these FPOs are likely to aggregate almost 92 per cent of farmers in the State.

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Highlighting the profitable pulse production scheme, crop insurance scheme, he said there is a huge amount of synergy what a model market such as NCDEX can provide as well where government and farmers and FPOs can actually utilise the market tools.

On the quality matters in agri produces, he said NCDEX helped establish two curcumin testing labs in Tamil Nadu a few years ago. Now a large number of farmers are taking advantage of this before they are selling to the market so ensuring that the exact curcumin content.

Sugarcane area

On the decline in the sugarcane area in Tamil Nadu, N Kumar, Vice-Chancellor, Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU), said this is because of the problem the farmers face in the field.

Non-availability of labour and farmers not getting the adequate prices as promised by the factories are some of the reasons for this. Stating that these areas are not lying vacant, he said profitable short duration crops such as maize have taken up in sugarcane growing area.

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(Clockwise from right bottom) Amit Mundawala, Co-founder and MD, StarAgri; Aleen Mukherjee, NICR COO and FPO strategy head, NCDEX; Prof N Kumar, Vice-Chancellor, TNAU; S Chandramohan, Director and Group President (Finance and Investment), TAFE; GR Chintala, Nabard Chairman; and Subramani MR, Commodities Editor, BusinessLine

On the paddy cultivation in the State, he said Tamil Nadu is in a comfortable position with regards to paddy. More than 100 lakh tonnes are produced every year. The productivity of rice, millets, pulses, oilseeds has increased over the years because of very high yielding varieties released from TNAU and popularised by the state departments besides the schemes implemented by the state government. There has been a rapid replacement of old varieties also, he said.

Considering the importance of farm mechanisation, TNAU has approved a diploma in agri engineering for the first time in India, he said. This is mainly to give basic training so that it will be helpful in repairing and service of farm implements, he said.

Start-ups

On agri-tech startups, Amit Mundawala, Co-founder and Managing Director, Star Agriwarehousing & Collateral Management Ltd, said though a lot of agritech start-ups have emerged, there is a need for better farmer linkages.

He said FPOs can act as an intermediary between tech companies and farmers. A few rural farmer can be trained and associated with these agritech companies they can help the farmers in buying inputs at the farm level. When the crop is harvested they can be sold out at the online e-market places.

Stressing the need to create primary collection centres with a very minimal ad-hoc storage capacity – 500-2,000 tonnes – for a week and 10 days in rural areas, he said there may a temperature control rooms for fruits and vegetables, and it can be bill collection Centre also.

Apart from this, such centres can have a small shop for agriculture inputs and all. These can be managed through the agri entrepreneurs or FPOs. They can be connected through agri-tech to an e-market place. Farmers in the 15-20 km vicinity can come to that platform. This can be very robust market with a small investment. This can be a major breakthrough, he added.

Subramani Ra Mancombu, Commodities Editor, BusinessLine , moderated the webinar presented by NABARD with NCDEX as the knowledge partner. Tamil Nadu Agricultural University and StarAgri Warehousing & Collateral Management were the other partners of the webinar.

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