Ag scientists in India to address food shortages

A group of Colorado State University soil and crop scientists is in India to share information about new farming techniques that might help the developing nation boost food production in the face of a booming population.

The trip illustrates a focus in the College of Agricultural Sciences on providing solutions to pressing and increasingly complex concerns regarding worldwide food supplies.

“Global food security is real, and CSU is willing to work collaboratively with colleagues in India and elsewhere to be instrumental in meeting this challenge of our times,” said Raj Khosla, recipient of a prestigious Monfort Professor Award in the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences.

Khosla is lead organizer of the first Indo-US Bilateral Workshop on Precision Agricultural Techniques and Technologies taking place at Punjab Agricultural University through March 3. A CSU delegation of eight is attending the event, which will involve about 100 researchers from the United States and India as well as industry and farming experts from the two countries.

“This workshop is a great example of researchers here in the College of Agricultural Sciences actively building and sharing their expertise to help solve challenges with global food supplies,” said Craig Beyrouty, college dean and soil scientist, who also is joining the trip.

Precision agriculture, the workshop’s theme, describes a range of farming techniques meant to improve crop production and protect the environment by understanding and adapting to specific variables within a farm field. Precision agriculture does for farming what tailoring does for a factory-made suit, fitting production inputs exactly to a field.

“In traditional systems, the entire field is treated as one unit – with the same plant population, the same amount of fertilizer, water, pesticides, labor and machinery across the entire field. Yet we know different parts of the field produce differently,” Khosla said. “Precision agriculture matches the inputs based on productivity of each and every part of the field. It takes into account specific soil and crop requirements. This avoids waste and enhances productivity, efficiency, profitability and overall sustainability.”

In the United States, farmers using precision agricultural techniques employ computer technology to “virtually” divide large fields into small grids, or management units, to make decisions about inputs. In India, however, farming is done on a much smaller scale. The workshop will investigate ways precision agriculture can be used to improve small-scale farm production that is critical to the nation’s food supply, Khosla said.

“They are open to innovative ideas to help them with food production,” he said. “Precision agriculture is part of the solution. Our challenge is to translate advances in the developed world to techniques that can be used there. This workshop is the first step in that direction.”

Khosla, president of the International Society of Precision Agriculture, has built a strong research and outreach program during the past decade. The new workshop is funded with grants from the Indo-US Science and Technology Forum and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Khosla’s work also is supported by the Monfort Family Foundation; he won a Monfort Professor Award, one of CSU’s top faculty honors, in 2009.

Also in the CSU delegation is Cassandra Collins, a senior majoring in international soil and crop science who volunteered to join Khosla to gain a close-up look at global food challenges.

“This will give me a hands-on experience and will give me a much better sense of agriculture in the developing world. That’s not something you can fully learn in a classroom,” Collins said. “I’m very excited about this opportunity.”