Kalyan Singh, 40, a manager at a 4.5-acre farm in Sikandari village in Bijnor district of Uttar Pradesh, switched off the power wondering how the water pump started automatically. Later he realised that someone sitting in Delhi, at a distance of 130 km from his place, had operated the pump.

It is an IoT-based automated drip system in which the pump is managed remotely using a normal 2-G connection through an app and water flow is regulated as per the requirement of the soil. There are also soil sensors fitted on the ground connected with the app which enable the user to keep track of soil conditions and nutrient deficiency. 

Tech-driven farming

Soon, Singh began to experience technology-driven farming and in less than two years, he realised its importance and is motivating others to adopt it. Though farmers in the village are convinced of the new practices using technology, they are still waiting to see the returns from the sugarcane crop ready for harvest now.

“Profit is the main factor to decide whether it (technology intervention) is good or bad,” said Bhagwan Tyagi, a farmer from the same district. 

IFFCO Kisan launched the pilot project on a small farm in Sikandri, owned by Vikash Karanwal living nearby at Chandpur, in 2020. The land was first levelled with laser and then fencing it with wire.

It appointed Singh as a full-time farm manager at the site since the owner has other things to do. The company is running 12 other similar projects in Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat. Based on their success, the model will be expanded to other States for commercial launch, company officials said. 

“Before we started, the yield of the crops was very low. We decided to do it differently leveraging our expertise in technology. So, we went ahead with drip irrigation, preparing well-distanced trenches and automated it, so that we can control it through an app. Besides, we have set up a weather station and soil sensors which help us monitor the nutrients and growth of the plant,” said IFFCO Kisan’s Managing Director Sandeep Malhotra.

Less usage of fertilisers

Under an agreement with the owner, IFFCO Kisan has invested ₹11 lakh as capital while it will share half of the operational expenses, estimated to be ₹3 lakh in the first year. The company will also manage post-harvest issues including marketing. As there was the issue of cane arrears in Uttar Pradesh, where payment to farmers was inordinately delayed by some sugar mills, IFFCO Kisan decided to make “natural jaggery” using minimum chemicals.

While farmers normally use up to two bags of di-ammonium phosphate fertiliser and five bags of urea per acre of sugarcane in western UP, in this project, the farmer has used only four bags of DAP and 14 bags of urea, besides avoiding pesticides commonly used by other farmers.

“We talked to a local kolhu (jaggery crusher) and we will get the sugarcane crushed there in our presence to make jaggery in which there will be none of the additives normally found in the jaggery available in the market,” said Malhotra.

IFFCO Kisan is in touch with many leading companies for selling the “natural jaggery” in bulk under business-to-business model.

Out of the 140 tonnes of expected cane output, the company plans to make 13-14 tonnes of jaggery and looks to sell it at ₹60-80/kg depending on the demand.

“Even if it is sold at an average of ₹60/kg, the net profit will be ₹4.2 lakh in the first year after expenses that includes the manager’s salary,” said a company official. “So, profit will be 100 per cent, it could be more also,” he said.

If the same quantity of cane is sold to a sugar mill, a farmer will receive up to ₹4.9 lakh (including the cost of production) based on State cane price of ₹350/quintal, the official said adding that, however, there would be uncertainty over the payment.