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    FarmERP: Making agriculture climate-smart

    Sanjay Borkar, co founder and chief executive, FarmERP

    Using new-age technologies such as AI and machine learning, agri-business companies have greater insight and control over their yields and profitability

    The advent of new age technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, coupled with drones and sensors are rapidly transforming the agriculture sector in India and around the world.

    Farmers and agri-business companies using these technologies have a much greater insight and control over their yields and profitability, and they are no longer at the mercy of the vagaries of weather.

    In India, one of the pioneers in persuading the farmers and agriculturists to adopt this innovation is FarmERP, a data-driven agri-intelligence business platform, conceptualised by Sanjay Borkar and Santosh Shinde of Pune-based Shivrai Technologies.

    In an exclusive chat with Eastern Eye, a sister title of Asian Trader, Borkar recalled how FarmERP came into being. He said, “Me and Santosh hail from agricultural families. We both had a liking for agriculture. In India it is considered more a tradition than business. When we started it was not even close to doing business.”

    Both Borkar and Shinde are computer engineers and graduated from the University of Pune and worked in information technology companies for a few years. “We thought of coming out with something that would ease the problems faced by farmers,” Borkar said.

    Keeping that in mind they began working on multimedia content and sold them to some agri-business companies. Then they thought of developing a tool that will help farmers improve their productivity and profitability.

    They created a software called Farm Management Software and it was developed keeping in mind the grape farmers of Nashik in Maharashtra, who export their produce to Europe. The software helped in keeping the important records, the expenses incurred and in maintaining the quality of produce.

    This was a simple, desktop-based software and we sold it to many farmers. Though it was interesting, it was very tough to sell to farmers, and the returns were modest and not sustainable, Borker recollects.

    Scaling up

    The duo then thought of converting the Farm Management Software to an enterprise resource planning (ERP) software and began serving the corporates. “Our first major offer came from Oman where we had to cater to 1200 acres of farmland,” Borkar said.

    They then began rebuilding and fine-tuning their ERP product by getting inputs from customers and improving the product, and exploring other markers.

    “We began getting orders from Turkey and Thailand for even bigger farmlands. Since then, a majority of our work is business-to-business (B2B). We work with plantation and farms, contract farming companies and exporters. We have also worked with farmer-producer organisations,” Borkar said.

    FarmERP has been used in a wide range of crops – from plantation crops like oil palm, rubber, sugarcane and pineapple to field crops like wheat and rice. It also deals with a wide varieties of fruits and all kinds of vegetables.

    “This platform is crop-agnostic. We can use it for any crop and in any region. We have deployed it in over 30 countries,” Borkar said.

    To cater to non-English speaking regions and help them access vital agricultural information and resources, FarmERP has included many languages including Spanish, French, Russian, Vietnamese, Turkish, Thai and Arabic on its platform.

    “We have covered 700,000 acres of land till now and 200,000 farmers have benefited indirectly from them. We don’t directly work with farmers,” he said.

    The platform covers all aspects of farming – planning, operation, execution and financial aspects. “FarmERP gives you plot-level or crop-wise profit and loss view,” Borkar said.

    Smart farming

    Borkar said bringing predictability into agriculture is one of their top priorities. “When we started our focus was on improving productivity and profitability. Now we are using artificial intelligence and machine learning to make agriculture climate smart.”

    This involves advising farmers on how to use water accurately and intelligently, the proper nutrition requirement, and the risks posed by pests and diseases. It all depends on the weather, he said.

    “We have devised climate-smart agricultural dashboard which helps the companies or farmers to understand and mitigate the climate risks,” Borkar said. For this dashboard, AI, machine learning and computer vision are used and this dashboard is integrated with FarmERP.

    “FarmERP is the business layer, it tells your costs, resources consumption etc. But FarmGyan is our intelligence repository and sits on top of this. It is the predictability layer. It tells you how much water is needed, possible pest and disease threats,” Borkar said.

    He explained that by just taking a picture of a crop using a cellphone and feeding it on the platform, one can know the amount of water and nutrition required.

    Regarding the challenge of bringing in different languages on FarmERP platform, Borkar said it always a challenge to work in countries where English is not spoken. “We work through our partners, and they helps us in translating, or giving local support in implementation, training and deployment of workforce,” he added.

    Borkar said with many more players entering this field there is a rise in competition and the industry is getting enriched.

    “We partner with them to develop or manufacture hardware, internet of things (IoT), sensors or machinery devices. These companies in turn integrate our ERP platform. Data from various parts in the farm – in the form of sensors, machinery, weather station, automated irrigation system is brought into a common database. This helps us give more insightful advice to the companies and end users,” Borkar said.

    Europe operation

    Borkar said Europe will be a focus area for crops grown in controlled conditions like berries.

    FarmERP has a long-standing client in France who grows berries, including blueberries, raspberries and strawberries and the company is in the process of finalising an order in Germany.

    “We have developed an excellent solution for berries. Berry picking is a skillful job, the worker who does this task needs to be trained. Your entire production quality depends on the skill of these workers. At FarmERP we have given every berry picker an ID card, which is scanned and recorded. We can now record worker-wise harvest, and we know who is working more efficiently and incentivise them. This helps in better labour management,” Borkar said.

    FarmERP also helps in farm scouting – going through the farmland and finding out which portion has the best yield. “We have modules which capture this minutely and suggest remedial measures,” Borkar said.

    The platforms also plays a vital role during post-harvest operations. “Once the harvest is done, the produce, be it vegetable or fruits, is brought to the packhouse. There it is cleaned, graded, and packed. Then it is put in cold storage. Ship it through air or sea. That entire cycle is covered in FarmERP.”

    Carbon-zero targets

    “FarmERP helps farmers attain carbon net zero targets and consumers eat food free from any chemical residue. Another focus areas is regenerative agriculture. This is a widely discussed subject because of carbon net zero compliance,” he said.

    Future plans

    “This year we will be launching the sustainability model. Which has carbon reporting in it. On the farm you can sequester or emit carbon. Using FarmERP we can find out how much carbon is sequestered and how much is emitted and prepare the carbon report. We are coming up with a new release – Release 24 this year. It is a major release with lots of new functionalities,” Borkar said.

    Awards

    FarmERP is now recognised in many countries and it recently won the ‘best tech in agriculture’ award instituted by Entrepreneur magazine.

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