Over the past several years, we have grown accustomed to unpredictable weather, periods of incessant rain, long droughts and volatile food prices. I guess we cant do much against nature!

But our next pathbreaker, Swati Nayak needs to be a step ahead always. With the help of technologies such as Remote Sensing and Data Science, Swati’s job involves predicting climate patterns, identifying pest attacks, analyzing soil condition, monitoring land imagery and working with farmers to ensure they get the best output for their investment and food for consumption.

Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal talks to Swati Nayak, Agronomist, about her motivation in choosing such a rare career and about the unpredictability of her work.

Swati, can you tell us about your background?

I was born and brought up in a small town Rourkela, Odisha. My school of the study was Chinmaya Vidyalaya. In my free time, I go out running, go for workouts or travel to new places. If i am caught inside I read blogs about new trends in the Agriculture and try to implement a few of those practices. I believe in learning constantly. My father is a doctorate in English and my mother is a housewife. My parents have always been supportive of my education and career path. 

Tell us about your educational background

I did my graduation in Agriculture Science from HNBGU, Dehradun and my Masters in Agricultural Science from Jawaharlal Nehru Krishi VishwaVidyalaya, Madhya Pradesh. 

How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and uncommon career?

My parents loved growing plants and maintaining them. Every morning they would take care of the plants with so much affection and dedication. That has always influenced me to take up a career in farming. 

My father is the key person who guided me towards Agriculture and showed me how broad an Agricultural field could be. My mentor Dr. Vibha Pandey (Scientist), is an inspiring woman and has supported me in improving my skills in the field of Agriculture. 

Basically, after I completed my higher secondary, I was in a situation where I could not decide my career path. But my father had a vision for my career path. He told me to go for a forestry course and become an IFS officer. Then with research and guidance, I realized that Agriculture had a broad scope in India. This career path was very new to me and I had no idea how it would help me. I was being laughed at while growing up in college because i chose Agriculture as my career. But today when I look back I would definitely say to myself that holding an Agriculture degree was the best decision I took in my life. 

During my career, I have been supported by my mentor during presentation of my work on integrated farming at several conferences. In an event held in PUSA, Bihar (First Agricultural University in India), I gave an oral presentation where the jury appreciated more youth coming into the field of Agriculture. I also got an opportunity to work at the Indian Agriculture Research Institute. That is how my career path started.

Can you tell us about your career path? 

My turning point came when I chose to focus on applications of technology in Agriculture, the most emerging path in the field of Agriculture. We work on Agricultural Science and Engineering techniques to create Smart Farming platforms for Farmers. This is where I realized there are so many possibilities to help farmers in India and other places in the world. In this era of technology the farming sector has to reap the benefits of digitalization, there can be a lot of ways to help farmers to fill the gaps.

I started working as a research fellow, then I joined as an intern at a Global company. With all my efforts and hard work, I acquired several new skills. Within 2 and a half years, I held the position of a well-experienced Agronomist. I work for 6th Grain Global Pvt Ltd.

I hold a master’s degree in Agriculture and crop science and I am a qualified digital agronomist holding 2.5 years of experience.  

What were some of the challenges you faced in your job as an Agronomist?

One of the challenges was when I had to look after farms in different countries, where the methods of farming and management practices were different from those of Indian farming. But, apparently with all determination and hard work I made it as a Digital Agronomist in a Global company 

What problems do you solve as an Agronomist?

As an Agronomist, I work on a smart, digital farm where crops are grown using precision agriculture, such as determination of harvest using digital imagery of fields.

I typically work with farmers by providing them with technical know-how. There’s the farm management side, which uses technology to help farmers make informed decisions and management side in terms of producing high yields with low input, all the way to research, by collecting, analyzing, visualizing, modeling, and computing data. 

Satellites are being applied to agriculture in several ways. Optical and radar sensors can provide an accurate picture of the field being cultivated, while also differentiating between crop types and determining their health and maturity. This information helps to inform the market and provide early warning of crop failure. The images of the farm being taken and analyzed by a satellite, able to detect trouble areas, and optimize the efforts to manage the farm. 

  • Foliar damage by pests in the field can be observed
  • Presence of weeds can be detected 
  • Yield prediction can be done
  •  Crop height, growth stage can be assessed
  • Disease and pest can be identified 
  • Real-time updates/data  on current field, soil and crop conditions
  • Real-time decision support (eg when to irrigate, when to control disease and insect attack).
  • With real time data, the prediction model of all kinds of stress can be made. This helps farmers to take preventive action rather facing adverse situation later
  •  Immediate alerts to canopy conditional change in crops (eg biotic and abiotic stress)
  • Harvest forecasting, through a crop health condition. 
  •  Hyper-localized weather
  • Animal tracking and monitoring
  • Enhanced field planning –  eg field profiling and seed variety selection
  • Visualization and augmented reality to enable direct in-field assessment of live operational and historical issues

With the predictive nature of remote sensing technology, farmers can now use remote sensing to observe a variety of factors including the weather patterns and the soil types to predict the planting and harvesting seasons of each crop. During the crop growing season, farmers can compare the relative health condition within and nearby of his fields. This allows Agronomists to compare farm fields on a large scale, and identify field performance and take action accordingly. 

What skills are needed for a job? How did you acquire the skills?

  • You must have a Bachelors degree in Agriculture Science but a Masters degree is preferable
  • After completion of higher secondary, you must apply to an ICAR institute, every state has an Agriculture university.
  • Always keep track of new technology and new adoptions in the farming sector.   
  • During your job, always be a keen learner and be ready for challenges.
  • Even after getting a job, you must keep learning and get trained on new technology and methods to keep your skills up to date. 
  • Be determined, be focused and have a vision of your work, that’s how you achieve your goals. 

What is a typical day like?

My typical day is like I wake up early, around 6, that’s when my cook comes over to make lunch. After completing my morning get-ready routine, which takes about 20 minutes at the max, i get into the kitchen and begin with making my breakfast and packing my lunch. 

I make sure to read blogs and articles before I rush to work

What is it you love about this job? 

An Agronomist’s work is never done; there are no set hours, you don’t clock in at 8 and out at 5. You start first thing in the morning and you finish when the last job is done at night, there are very few jobs with this kind of culture. 

Without Farmers and the Agricultural industry, there would be no food in the world. People underestimate Farmers and people in Agriculture. But if Farmers and Agronomists stop working, the food source dries up, this a basic need for every one of us. The best thing I like about my job is my contribution to the world food economy. 

How does your work benefit society?

  • When i tell people about my profession, they show so much interest in this field. 
  • Agriculture and farming is such a thing, that people get encouraged when they come to know about it. They want to start their own farms and want to grow crops. 
  • Engineers want to use technology in the field of Agriculture, they want to come up with new farm technologies to help Farmers. 
  • With knowledge of Organic and integrated farming, there is so much we can all do together and contribute towards healthy food and life. 

Tell us an example of a specific work you did that is very close to you!

There are several memorable projects and achievements in my career. One of the most memorable ones is the Fall Armyworm (FAW) attack, the latest threat that the Agricultural sector is facing. FAW, which wreaked havoc in Africa, entered India last year and spread very rapidly to several states. It is being detected mostly in maize crops and maize is the third most important cereal crop in India after rice and wheat. It accounts for 9 percent of the total food grain production in the country. There have been reports from states where it infested paddy, sugarcane and sweetcorn crops as well.  Farmers started panicking and could not identify what was going on, they had been farming for years, but never noticed this insect.

We as agronomists were very sure of the insect attack, I carried the sample to the National Bureau of Agricultural Insect  Research (NBAIR, Karnataka) and got it genetically identified to a specific species. Myself and my team members immediately realized the problems farmers were going to face and how we were going to help them immediately.  We presented several scouting practices, models and integrated remedies, early warning systems so that the major crops could be saved. 

During that situation, I and my team members had worked immensely. Such contributions to agriculture are the greatest achievements in my career.

Your advice to students based on your experience?

Based on my experience, I would say never regret choosing a different field, especially the field of Agriculture which has a lot of scope. If you are smart and hardworking you can be very successful in the farming and technology sector. 

This career will always be in demand because Food is a basic need.

This is something you would love to do because there are a lot of possibilities for success and achievements in the Agricultural world. 

Future Plans?

My future plans are to become an entrepreneur and run my own farm and open a blind school to facilitate children towards education and a better career.