April - June 2016
Indian agriculture requires variable and efficient input management system in accordance with the soil condition and crop requirements. A sustainable, environmentally safe and cost effective production system will depend on reliable spatiotemporal information based input management system. This knowledge-based approach is intended to increase farming efficiency, enhance profitability, lessen environmental impacts, and is expected to drive further technological innovation. Technological developments in the field of remote sensing and geospatial sciences, and lets have the advantage in terms of generating state-of-the art informatics, capturing the variability, vulnerability and dynamism of agricultural system for spatiotemporal monitoring of crop and soil health. The Aerial Unmanned Vehicles commonly known as drones have shown promising ability for agricultural remote sens1ng 1n recent years. The Drone platforms are evolving rapidly from technical and regulatory standpoints. Aerial sensing from drone bridges the gap between ground-based observations and remotely sensed imagery from conventional aircraft and satellite platforms. Satellite remote sensing systems have several critical drawbacks for agricultural applications such as low spatial and temporal resolution, availability Iimited by weather conditions and high cost. Use of drone offers several advantages such as low cost, quicker and repeatable data acquisition, flexibility in terms of flying height and timing of missions as per need, high spatial resolution imagery, safety and generation of near real time information. Keeping in view the above facts, drones have been identified as a powerful complement to remote sensing platforms for agricultural applications. The drone-based sensing technology would enable rapid, noninvasive, reliable appraisal of soil-health and crop conditions (nutrient, water, pest and disease stresses) at field scale and would help subsequent issuance of advisories for countering environmental and economic consequences of indiscriminate use of fertilizers and other ecologically unfriendly agronomic interventions. Recently, Government of India lunched soil health card programme to generate soil health cards for 140 million land holdings through testing of 25.3 million soil samples at every three years interval. The UAV based hyperspectral sensing technology may complement getting soil test results and generating soil health card in desired pace. Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana launched during January 2016, aims to increase small farmers' resilience to weather shocks and to enhance farmers' adaptive capacity by developing 'climate-smart insurance' products and also to encourage farmers to adopt innovative and modern climate smart agriculture. Drone based remote sensing products would be proxy to crop losses as opposed to loss assessment on farmers' fields by insurance agents. This may lower the cost of providing insurance support to small holders and make it affordable. The proposed technology would not only help in geo-referencing/geo'mapping of insurance having homogenous risk profile for the notified crop, but also in assessing yield loss and type of localized risks causing yield loss.
Recently, IARI with its partner from Delhi Technological University has carried out studies on drone based remote sensing for in season crop health monitoring and also explored its potential for field phenotyping of a large number of rice and wheat genotypes using visible and NIR sensors in low flying indigenously developed drones. The technology was showcased in the recently held Agricultural Fair with a theme on Krishi Unnati 2016. In recently launched KISAN (C(K)rop Insurance using Space technology And geo- informatics) by Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers
Welfare, data collected by drones are being collated with satellite imagery and traditional crop cutting experiments to arrive at a foolproof settlement of crop loss claimed by individual farmers. There are many initiatives by private sectors on use of drone for drought monitoring in Marathawada region of Maharashtra and assessing the damage to wheat and mustard crops due to untimely rain and hail storms in Haryana. With climate change challenging Indian Agriculture, there is a need to strengthen research for developing Unmanned Aerial Vehicles with indigenous know-how including appropriate sensors to be deployed for specific applications in agriculture suiting to the agroclimatic conditions prevalent in India. For this, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research has taken collaborative initiatives with Indian Institutes Technology, Indian Space Research Organization and other institutes to evolve and nurture drone-based technology to revolutionize the farming practices, reduce crop loss and enhance farmers' income in India in the years to come. Understanding and developing air· borne hyper-spectral remote sensing based monitoring of crop and soil condition will have many implications when used in conjunction with satellite based technologies at wider scale. This initiative is perfectly aligned with visionary programme of Honourable Prime Minister on 'Promoting Space Technology in Governance and Development'.