This Article is From Mar 27, 2015

After PM Modi's Scheme, Farmers Talk of 'Satellite God'

After PM Modi's Scheme, Farmers Talk of 'Satellite God'

Representational Image

New Delhi:

Sher Singh, a farmer from Rajasthan, prays to Varuna, the Hindu god of water, for a bountiful harvest. Now, he is also looking to the heavens for satellite imaging to boost his crop.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants to promote a "per drop, more crop" approach to farming to make better use of scarce water, and aims to have a new satellite crop monitoring system working in time for the peak of this year's monsoon in July.

Using remote analysis to assess soil moisture and crop development has the potential to cut input costs and raise yields, say experts.

Under the scheme, farmers would be able to access advisories on their mobile phones to help them to choose seed varieties, apply the right fertilisers or time irrigation 'shots', though some are sceptical about how effective the plan will be given natural or other obstacles.

"I hope to cut at least a tenth of input cost with the help of the 'satellite god'," said Singh, 55, who farms less than a hectare of rapeseed and hopes to use savings to educate his two grandchildren.By his own admission, Singh doesn't know how much to water his crops, the right fertiliser mix - or even the right crop to plant given the land's soil type.

After last year's landslide poll victory, the Modi administration rolled out a national Soil Health Card scheme modelled on an initiative he launched as Chief Minister of Gujarat to help farmers plant crops suited to their farmland.

In addition, satellite analysis can assess vegetation cover down to field level, helping to determine how a crop is developing and whether it has been harmed by pests or needs more water.

In countries such as the United States and Canada unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, are  used to overfly farms to map soil and crops accurately.

The next-best option is satellite analysis, more affordable for India, that uses a method called Normalized Vegetation Difference Index to assess how well a crop is developing.

India is also preparing to use satellite based crop forecasts to develop insurance for farmers. Currently, insurance products cover primarily crop loans and exclude farm activities.

© Thomson Reuters 2015