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July-September 2015

Mechanization of agricultural operations from land preparation to harvesting becomes inevitable due to increasing labour costs and non-availability of agricultural workers. Mechanization not only reduces drudgery, but also helps in enhanced production and productivity of agricultural commodities through timeliness of operations, effective management of inputs, improved quality of work and reduction in post-harvest losses. India has 192 million ha of gross cropped area owned by more than 166.5 million farmholders with an average land holding size of 1.16 ha. The smalland marginal-farmers hold about 44% of the total cultivable lands and so their roles in national agricultural production are very important and indispensable. The medium- and large-farm holders can only afford to use machinery for agriculture, either on ownership or on custom-hire basis. The economic status of small- and marginal-farmers is generally poor and hence do not go in for any high end and expensive mechanization options. They, instead, resort to traditional equipments and methods of crop cultivation. For increasing our production levels to meet the future food demands and for inclusive growth of farming community in the country, mechanization of small-and marginalfarmers need also be encouraged.

Mechanization using traditional machines like the tractors, power tillers, ploughs of various kinds, conventional seed drills, plantprotection equipments etc. is already being done and the levels of mechanization will continue to increase. A new class of machines is now coming up which can be called as ‘smart machines’. The major deviations of ‘smart machines’ from traditional machines are: the ‘smart machines’ operate with greater precision, less efforts, developed to perform specific operations and mostly remote operated. The untiring efforts of scientists of ICAR and State Agricultural Universities have resulted in development of several successful machines and equipments which can be grouped as ‘smart machines’. Coconut tree climbing robot, seeding machines, precision dusters, and precision land levelers are examples of such ‘smart machines’.

Advantages of ‘smart machines’ are: reduction in the human drudgery such as climbing on tall trees, spraying near the canopy of tall and bushy trees, precision levelling and planting; timeliness of operations; saving in inputs like chemicals and seeds and reducing the overall cost of cultivation. Three different types of coconut tree climbers have been developed in Kerala. A rope operated arecanut harvester has also been developed and successfully adopted across the country. The arecanut harvester and the coconut tree climbers are simple and economically affordable for small-and marginal-farmers too. Manually operated coconut tree climbers are increasingly becoming popular. Remoteoperated coconut tree climbers are being developed. Precision dusters and electrostatic sprayers are another type of ‘smart machines’. These machines help in applying the plant-protection chemicals precisely on the target and in reducing the quantity of required chemicals considerably. Nondestructive quality evaluation of fruits and vegetables are important both at harvesting and in processing plants. A hand held electronics based equipment has been developed for maturity determination of mangoes. By proper input of relevant information this unit can also be used for determining maturity stages of several other fruits.

Smart packaging systems are increasingly becoming popular. A smart packaging system will monitor the condition of the packaged foods in micro-environment during transportation and distribution and give information on the safety of the product for consumption. Such information is useful in recalling unsafe products and to avoid food-borne illnesses. The temperature and relative humidity are important environment factors that determine the shelf-life of a product. A RFID-based temperature and relative humidity sensor helps in determining the shelf-life of produce stored or distributed in a particular environment. In some instances these smart packages have simple sensors that display colours ranging from green to red indicating that the food is safe or unsafe for consumption, respectively. When such smart displays are used the consumer need not painfully read the best-before-portions of the packaging. Nondestructive internal quality evaluation using soft Xrays, colour and size grading using digital image processing systems, maturity determination using acoustic resonances are some of the areas in which research and development focuses are on.

In order to improve upon the assessment of spinning potential of quality cotton, portable ginning and miniature spinning machines have been developed by the Council and are useful for cotton breeders, seed companies, traders and farmers. Precision levellers are yet another class of ‘smart machines’ that precisely level the soil surface-based on laserbeam-based measurements. Precisely levelling lands help in increasing the cultivable area by 2 to 3% because the requirement of bunds and channels is minimized. The irrigation water requirement is also reduced. Pneumatic seed drills are also being developed and in some places are used for small and light weight seeds and expensive seeds. These machines pick up seeds from the hopper using pneumatic power and precisely drill the required number of seeds. The availability and use of ‘smart machines’ in the country is very limited. The costs of such ‘smart machines’ are prohibitive, particularly for small- and marginal- farmers. Research efforts must be made towards developing ‘smart machines’, gadgets and technologies that are affordable even to small-and marginal-farmers. Popularizing such ‘smart machines’ will make the farming and post-harvest handling easy and safe. The requirement of raw materials like seeds, plant-production and -protection, chemicals and irrigation water will be reduced making the cost of farming lesser and making the farmers earn more money per unit of land.