Dinesh Singh Saini has 16 bigha (3.33 acres; one acre=4.8 bigha), of which 2 bigha is dedicated to growing wheat only for self-consumption. On the remaining land, he cultivates vegetables, mainly cauliflower (10 bigha) and tomato (4 bigha).
This farmer, like many in Raghunathpur village in Hapur district and tehsil of western Uttar Pradesh, deploys a laser land leveler — ‘computer manjha’, in local parlance — on his field once every two years.
“Isse paani ki bachat hai aur paidavar bhi zyaada hai (it saves water and also boosts yields),” says Saini about this machine that uses guided laser beam technology, as against conventional bullock/tractor-drawn iron scrappers or wooden planks, for smoothening and leveling of the soil surface prior to sowing.
The ‘Spectra Precision’ manjha operating on his field basically comprises a laser emitter (fixed on a tripod stand just outside the field that is to be leveled), receiver (mounted on a mast attached to a tractor-drawn bucket with a scraper blade) and control box (fitted on the tractor). The emitter continuously sends out an infrared beam that can travel up to 600 meters radius in a perfectly straight line parallel to the required field plane. The receiver picks up the beam and converts it into an electrical signal for transmission to the control box. The control box, in turn, activates a valve that regulates the flow of oil from the tractor’s pump to the hydraulic cylinder to raise and lower the bucket/ scraper. The scraper guidance is automatic, with the raising and lowering of the blade (which cuts and fills the soil to achieve the desired leveling) simply following the laser beam.
“With manjha, the water reaches all parts of my field and I can irrigate 2 bigha in one hour, which otherwise (in unleveled land) takes 1.5 or even two hours. My gobi (cauliflower) yield, too, has doubled from 40-50 panni (polythene bags of 18 kg each) to 80-100 panni per bigha, while rising from 80-90 crates (of 25 kg each) to 100-150 crates per bigha for tamatar (tomato). This is due to more uniform distribution of water as well as placement of fertiliser and seed. The result is better germination and growth of plants, which are also of the same size in a leveled field,” claims Saini, who sows his cauliflower and tomato nurseries in July, followed by transplanting in August. Cauliflower is harvested during November-December and tomato over November-February. He further sows lobiya (cowpea) in March-April for harvesting in May-June.
Saini does not own the manjha, which does 3-4 bigha in an hour. He has hired the Spectra Precision laser leveler from Akash Sharma, who charges an hourly rate of Rs 650-700. The 20-year-old Sharma, a fresh commerce graduate from the nearby IMIT College in Hapur, is a farmer himself. His father Shivnath and he cultivate paddy-wheat on 20 out of their 35-bigha holding. On the balance 15 bigha, they take tomatoes and fodder maize (planted in March for harvesting in 60-70 days).
“We earn more from hiring of machinery than farming now,” states Sharma, who bought the manjha for Rs 2.90 lakh a year ago. He has also invested Rs 22,000 in a cultivator (used for seedbed preparation) and Rs 1.06 lakh in a rotavator (for more heavy-duty tillage). All these equipment are powered by a 58-horsepower Sonalika tractor costing him Rs 7.22 lakh.
“My tractor runs for 1,000 hours in a year, of which only 100 hours is for our use and the rest on other farmers’ fields. The cultivator can cover roughly 14 bigha per hour and I charge a rate of Rs 100/bigha, with these at 8-9 bigha and Rs 160/bigha for the rotavator,” explains Sharma.
Sharma’s laser leveler is operated for over 600 hours annually, much of it from end-February (just after harvesting of potato) to mid-July (before the monsoon rains). “I do almost 500 hours during this period and another 100-125 hours from end-October to end-November (between paddy harvesting and wheat sowing). My income (at Rs 650-700/hour) comes to Rs 4-4.2 lakh, while the major expenses are on diesel (Rs 1.6 lakh for 4 litres/hour at Rs 66.5/litre) and labour (Rs 60,000, if hired for 150 days at Rs 400/day). Even after repair and maintenance, I make decent money,” he adds.
Manjeet Singh of Davinder Agriculture Works, a farm equipment dealer here, estimates that Hapur district alone has some 1,500 laser levelers. “70 per cent of farmers in Raghunathpur, which has 5,200 bigha of agricultural land, are using these in their fields. This village has two levelers (the other one belongs to Sharma’s father’s brother Moolesh) and they cater to its entire requirement. Custom hiring has allowed even farmers with 10 bigha (2 acres) to level their lands once in two years. They are fully aware of the benefits from it,” he points out.
According to Rajan Aiyer, managing director of Trimble India Pvt. Ltd — a wholly-owned subsidiary of the California-based Trimble Inc, which sells Spectra Precision laser levelers — the market for precision agriculture equipment is expanding fast. “We were the first to introduce land levelers in the country, for research trials in 2001-02 and commercial sales in 2004-05. There would be 1,00,000-1,25,000 levelers in Indian fields today, with a few hundreds of thousands acres of land being leveled every year, mostly in Punjab, Haryana and western UP,” he notes.
Apart from Spectra Precision, major laser leveler brands selling in India include Leica, Topcon, Moba and assorted Chinese makes.