The vines in Grover Zampa’s plantation stretch almost as far as the eye can see, bearing grapes destined for wine bottles. Curiously, the 45-acre (18.2 hectares) vineyard, located a few kilometres outside Bengaluru, is conspicuously short on labourers. This is especially striking given grapevines require regular manual inspections to check for fungal infections such as Botrytis Cinerea, a viticulturist’s worst nightmare.

But Grover Zampa isn’t leaving anything to chance. Intertwined with its precious vines is an army of small sensors, with cables snaking their way into the ground and crawling along the vineyard’s many irrigation lines. All these cables link back to a grey box on a pole—a central hub—atop which sits a wind gauge. These sensors have replaced the scores of labourers Grover Zampa once depended on. 

Not only do they remotely monitor for diseases like Botrytis Cinerea, they also flag fluctuations in air pressure, moisture levels and weather conditions. This allows farmers to act preemptively, resorting to pesticide when the technology says conditions are conducive to disease or pests. They no longer have to wait until the symptoms of disease actually manifest. Irrigation, similarly, is done only when the sensors detect that the soil’s moisture content is below the appropriate level. Fertilisers, too, can be sprayed without fear of being washed away by an overnight downpour.

This technology, called Fasal (meaning crop in Hindi), has been a boon for Grover Zampa’s vineyard. The winemaker has been using Fasal for two years, acting as a proof of concept before becoming Fasal’s creator Wolkus Technologies’ first customer. Fasal has helped Grover Zampa to reduce its water consumption by 30% and also lowered its overall costs, said Manjunath VG, vice president of operations.

One-year-old Wolkus Technologies is one of as many as 384 relatively young players in India’s emerging agritech sector, according to Tracxn data. Each of these companies comes armed with its own ideas to solve India’s myriad agricultural problems, mostly through software-based platforms.

The horticulture pie

Out of the 140 million hectares of agricultural land available in India, 17% falls under horticulture

Fasal, however, stands out in the crowd since it is one of the rare agritech offerings that combine hardware and software. Wolkus is also among the few to work directly with farmers, rather than with corporates or businesses that deal in contract farming.

Fasal’s hardware consists of leaf moisture sensors, humidity sensors, soil moisture sensors and wind direction sensors. These constantly gather data and transmit it to the ‘central hub’, which is connected to the internet via a mobile SIM card. This is where Fasal’s machine learning-based algorithm kicks in. It analyses the data to predict the likelihood of rainfall, the crop’s need to be watered, its susceptibility to a disease, etc.

AUTHOR

Sharathkumar Nair

Sharath switched to journalism after working for 8 years in the IT sector. Fresh out of J-school, IIJNM, he joins The Ken as a Staff Writer. Anything and everything about technology excite him. When not working on a story, he spends his time reading tech novels and watching sci-fi series. He can be reached at Sharath at the rate the-ken.com

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