Power tillers, which are essentially mini-tractors with two wheels and rotary tillers, should logically be preferred over tractors by Indian farmers, given that almost 85 per cent of them have farm holdings of less than two hectares in size. In Japan, where the average farm size is even smaller, power tillers constitute the mainstay of paddy cultivation. But this is not the case in India. Even small and marginal farmers prefer to own or hire a tractor rather than the more affordable power tiller. While the annual market for tractors is roughly around 600,000 units, the market for power tillers is well below 60,000 units and that too mostly in the southern and north-eastern states.
A key limitation in a power tiller, which lowers its appeal to farmers, is that someone needs to walk behind it to guide its movement. Apart from drudgery, such trailing of the machine can, at times, be hazardous if the operator comes in contact with moving parts such as the rotary blades. However, a solution has been found to overcome this drawback. An enterprising Mangaluru-based engineer, Prajwal V Kumar, who specialises in robotics, has devised a remote control system to manage this machine from a safe distance - even from outside the field - without having to march behind it. The electronic-cum-mechanical remote control kit can be attached to different brands of power tillers. It ensures safe operation by eliminating any possibility of the operator coming in touch with a moving part. The gadget also has other in-built safety features such as auto-stop, in case the machine goes out of the remote's range or if there's any failure in the electrical or mechanical system. Kumar has got the technology patented.
However, many power tiller manufactures are not too keen to attach this device to their machines. "Most of these manufacturers also produce small tractors and they fear the introduction of remote-controlled power tillers would adversely affect the sale of their tractors," says Kumar. He has, therefore, co-founded a company, Mangalore Robautonics, to manufacture remote kits on a pilot scale. These can be procured by farmers and fitted to the power tillers. Last year, Kumar received the national award for commercialisable patents from the Technology Information, Forecasting and Assessment Council, a wing of the Department of Science and Technology. He has also won other awards for this invention.
Admittedly, tractors are not wholly irrelevant even for small farms, as they may be needed under some specific situations. But for routine agricultural chores, power tillers score over tractors in many ways. Costwise, a power tiller is far cheaper to buy and use compared to a small tractor, despite relatively lower government subsidy on the tiller. The lower diesel consumption of a power tiller vis-à-vis a small tractor helps farmers save on operational costs, regardless of the fact that a power tiller normally takes longer to complete the same job. The average fuel consumption of a power tiller is about 1.25 to 1.5 litres per working hour, against 2.0 to 2.5 litres of a small tractor. Besides, the maintenance cost of power tillers is also far lower than that of tractors. This apart, power tillers are more economical even for other uses, such as for running water pumps and grain threshers.
In terms of operational efficiency, too, a power tiller excels over a small tractor in several respects. It's easier manoeuvrability comes handy in small and fragmented farms, where a tractor is difficult to operate. Also, in soils that are prone to compaction under the weight of a tractor and the driver sitting on it, a power tiller is deemed more suitable. More importantly, in undulated and hilly terrains, where terraced farming is usually in vogue, a power tiller is quite often the only machine that can work. These plus points, coupled with the added facility to operate it through a remote control, would hopefully help the power tiller find its due place in Indian agriculture.