A guava grower shares his experience with precision plant protection

We met Syed Abdulla in 2021 when he just joined our platform. Syed is a guava grower from Hyderabad, Telangana, India. He represents a promising phenomenon of young professionals who bring plant protection technology to the farm to help shape the future of agriculture. We invited him to discuss plant protection, and share his experience, challenges, and his hopes for the future.

Hello Syed, please tell us a bit about yourself, and your orchard history. Why did you choose to grow guava?

I am a medical student, my father was a sales manager, and my brother is a computer science graduate. 

My grandfather used to grow sugarcane then shifted to rice, my father continued to grow rice for several years. These were not very profitable, then we gave the land for lease for a few years, they grew cotton in that period, then in 2018 we planted guava, coconut, and lemon. 

The choice of planting guava was not just about earning money but providing products that would meet the nutritional needs of the body, guava contains vitamin C, iron, and calcium. These minerals and vitamins are part of the majority of medical supplements. We chose Taiwan guava because it has a good shelf life. On a tree as well as post-harvest. 

How many people work with you? What is their responsibility?

My teammates are my father and brother, they monitor field works and see that irrigation and fertigation are provided on time.l live in the city to pursue my studies, I monitor the farm through satellite scans according to the scans I plan my visit to the orchard, I come and inspect the trees and I also deal with fertigation and its plan. 

There are 4 resident workers who deal with the daily inspection of the orchard, keeping it clean and spraying insecticides and providing irrigation and fertigation, and harvesting. 

There is an additional team of 10 workers who come to work when the workload increases. During harvesting for example.

Plant protection made simpler with the aid of remote sensing

Tell us about the disease and pest challenges? How did you manage the plant protection in your orchard in the past?

In guava the major destructive pest is the fruit fly, which can cause 100% fruit damage, fruit borers can also cause significant damage if spraying is not applied during the fruit set. Mealybug is a minor pest, it can be easily controlled if the fruit is not bagged, but when bagging is done, if the bag is not tightened to twig properly, it can cause severe infestations if the periodic sprays are not done, the major problem with the mealybug is its hiding capability and the waxy layer on the adults which gives them protection. Other foliar pests can be easily controlled by contact and systematic insecticide until they are susceptible to available insecticides. Then comes fungal diseases, it is very challenging to control fungi up to 100%, and this causes the development of fungal diseases that damage fruits during heavy rains. During such periods the fungi spread rapidly to other fruits. 

Nematodes can cause severe retardation of growth in the summer. 

After getting versed with all pests and diseases if one can bring fruit damage down to 5% to 10% then that is a great achievement. In the beginning, if you start managing without taking advice from experts and experienced farmers then you will face huge losses, that’s the reason I want to share my journey to help farmers avoid the mistakes which I did. 

In the past, we experienced massive rains during the harvest period which led to huge fruit fly infestation and 100% loss.

In another season,  a representative of a pesticide company made weekly visits to the orchard and suggested solutions for problems. He promised that he will give results without bagging, but we didn’t want to take the risk, so we bagged 75% of the fruits and left 25% unbagged, but after 50% of harvest the first spell of rain caused fruit fly infestation on unbagged fruits and the second spell of rainfall lasting for 15 days causing the development of fungus in bagged fruits leading to 50% damage.

As a biology student, I am curious about pests, plants, and diseases and I gained most of my knowledge regarding them till the end of the third season. We managed to maintain plant protection based on this knowledge and then I came across Agrio. 

How did you come across Agrio?

One day I thought I am not the only one who is doing agriculture. There are lakhs of people around the world who are dealing with these challenges, so I started searching for platforms where I will get access to the best agriculture experts. I was searching for platforms in the play store, and this is how I came across Agrio. 

What is your perspective on digital solutions in agriculture? What do you wish to see in the future?

Digital solutions can make a huge positive impact in the agriculture sector but can’t eliminate physical inspection, they make things easier, less time-consuming, and can make agriculture a part-time business and a more profitable business. 

Regarding Agrio, I want to see the expansion of the pest modeling. I am using the daily briefing feature which keeps updating the stage of pest and status of pest infestation so that spraying can be done during a period during which the pest is susceptible to pesticides. I wish to have the daily briefing feature for all pests that I deal with. 

Agrio should conduct research on new methods of pest controls and communicate it with the users in the form of tutorials. 

We live in an era of technological progress. Continuous research helps you find new methods of controlling pests that save time and money, reduce insecticide exposure to fruits and improve results. 

How the satellite scanning changes the way you understand the orchard situation and practice plant protection? 

Satellite scans decreased the load of inspection and they help in eliminating many differential diagnoses and narrowing down suspected causes, they help in understanding which part of the orchard is growing during a specific period. They indicate nutrient deficiency by showing homogenous fall when fertigation is delayed. They allow to demarcate the hotspot zones and monitor them periodically. They also allow the detection of the origin of pest infestation. 

I think that a satellite scan is a non-specific modality, a satellite scan followed by inspection helps to make out what the problem is. I hope to see the progress that can make satellite scans more specific in the future. 

But in spite of its limitations it helps a lot in understanding the orchard situation, it helps farmers to divide orchards into pest zones and non-pest zones and make a spray in pest zones, and it helps to detect differential growth of trees in different areas and detect defects in areas with low growth. 

Can you describe a particular case in which Agrio helped you detect a pest or a disease and protect your plants? 

Nematode infestation was detected on a few plants through satellite scan that showed a decline in that area, then photos of plants in that area were uploaded with the smartphone camera by us, then inspection of the roots was suggested, nodules were detected on roots, and nematode infestation was identified. 

The satellite scan help to localize areas where mealybug is present on leaves of plants based on differential decline shown by infested area, so that geotagged photos can be taken in that area and the pest zone can be demarcated then spraying can be done in that area, this reduces the amount of exposure of plants to pesticides as spraying will be done only in an infested area, this also reduces the cost of spraying. 

Does the app help you with coordinating the operations on the farm? Please describe how it works.

The app has excellent features that can help teammates to coordinate and get work done perfectly. It has a feature of taking geotagged photos, an inspector can take photos in places of infestation so that teammates can make sure treatment is done there and can monitor its progress. It has a chat where daily work can be communicated. This helps in coordinating irrespective of different working hours. The feature of the intervention calendar helps in maintaining records of it and the information is accessible to all teammates. Sometimes you get excellent results but you forget the things that were done and the pesticides that were used. The satellite scans and intervention helps to recall and review the results of interventions. 

What is the dynamic in the community of growers in your region? What is the level of interest in precision agriculture solutions? Do you see how area-wide integrated pest management can be applied with the aid of technology to the benefit of the whole community?

Most of the guava growers here grow native variety which has a short shelf life on trees as well as post-harvest. Bagging is not economical so they frequently suffer from fruit fly losses. Most of the Taiwan guava growers are 500 km away from here, they are also bagging fruits to produce first-quality fruit as suggested by local experts. In other crops, the majority of farmers are uneducated and depend on plant protection advice from either pesticide shop owners or the horticulture department. 

Area-wide management can help to detect pests at an early stage when the population is low, this reduces the spraying of pesticides in adjacent fields, and many of the infestations can be prevented.  An individual farmer will suffer many challenges, but communication and cooperation between farmers of an area can make huge changes and provide profitable crops. 

Who are your produce buyers? Tell us about your marketing challenges. What do you wish for in the future?

Brokers in the main market of Hyderabad buy our produce, today due to the pandemic many countries are in debt, and people’s economic situation is worsening. Due to this buying fruits became secondary to low class and lower middle class, which led to a decrease in demand and a fall in prices. 

Due to urbanization many big markets of the city are getting shifted to the outskirts, and there is an increase in the travel costs of the city vendors to the market, so many workers are finding it difficult to carry this profession, these are leading to a decrease in consumption and further fall of prices. 

Regional markets should be established within the city according to the consumption and supply should be made accordingly to decrease cost price to vendors. Minimum rates should be fixed to the quality categories of fruits so that farmers will not be losing in any season. Farmers should also be able to sell their produce on online platforms where they can get fair prices. But to achieve that they should be producing them in huge quantities. 

Anything else that you would like to add?

For many years farmers have been at a great loss due to unseasonal rains and lack of evidence-based suggestions by local agriculture experts, using technology and proper planning should bring good results in the future. Failure is an opportunity to begin again more Intelligently.