IIT Kanpur-incubated startup, AgroNxt, which started as a SaaS platform for farmers in 2016, has launched a chemical-free, electronic soil testing tool, called Bhu-Parikshak, this year. It uses NIR spectroscopy and AI/ML to quickly calculate six soil sample parameters.
A typical soil testing lab in India takes 7 to 30 days to test a soil sample for a farmer, according to Rajat Vardhan—the co-founder and CEO of agri-tech startup AgroNxt. But then, one might not expect the 4,000 odd labs to conduct soil tests for India’s 140 million hectares of net sown area any time soon.
This is when the smart and portable soil-testing device Bhu-Parikshak (Hindi for soil tester) comes into the picture. No technical skills are required for its use, but only a smartphone to connect electricity for charging it.
Vardhan and Ashutosh Tiwari started AgroNxt as an advisory platform for the farming community. With a series of data-driven revisions and investment from IIT (Indian Institute of Technology) Kanpur as an equity holder, the team decided to introduce a solution for one of the biggest challenges faced by farmers: the need for a fast, cheap, and chemical-free soil testing equipment.
Interestingly, researchers at IIT Kanpur are already working in this direction. Soon, a team under Prof. Jayant K. Singh came out with Bhu-Parikshak. Vardhan said, “The institute chose AgroNxt to commercialize the product because of our expertise in agriculture and data. They believed that an IoT-based electronics solution, which would plug into our SaaS (software as a service) platform, reach the farming community on a large scale.
Notably, this hardware solution is not directly intended for farmers. Vardhan pointed out, “More than 80% of farmers in India are small and marginal, who cannot afford an individual device, until and unless supported by the government.”
The company is positioning the product for the industry—the 400,000 plus agri-input shops, sugar factories, coffee and tea plantations, and FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) companies in the agricultural supply chain, who can buy the device. and can provide services. of farmers. “Microentrepreneurs, self-help groups, and farmer producer organizations can also come on board and, in turn, provide soil testing as a service to farmers by charging ₹50 -100 per sample, as it should be economical for these groups,” added Vardhan.
To operate, the Bhu-Parikshak needs to be turned on and paired with a smartphone with the AgroNxt Bhu-Parikshak app via Bluetooth connection. Before use, the device must be calibrated and 5-8 grams of soil sample is poured into the designated sample cup for testing. The results are calculated and displayed in the application, which can be shared with farmers—all within two minutes.
Vardhan announced, “The device is based on near-infrared spectroscopy, which is based on molecular overtones and combination vibrations that arise from fundamental vibrational bands that are usually found in the mid-IR region.” It estimates the available forms of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium along with clay content, cation exchange capacity, and organic carbon in the soil. The company claims that the device can test 50,000 soil samples in its lifetime, with 100-250 samples a day.
“Like the IIT Kanpur studies, once calibrated, the device gives results with 80-96% accuracy, which is an acceptable figure in the soil testing market,” according to Vardhan. He added that with regular use, the results continue to improve because “this machine learns quickly.”
When the product was transferred to the startup as a minimum viable product, they took feedback from industry partners—which included sugar mills, agricultural input companies, FMCG companies, some farmers, and FPOs— to ensure its acceptance in the market. . The final hardware costs ₹100,000, including all taxes. A nominal recurring fee of ₹10 per soil sample sustains the massive cloud infrastructure set up for this purpose.
Vardhan said they have tied up with established players from agri-business to reach out to more farmers. For example, ITC plans to partner with thousands of FPOs across the country, and AgroNxt is excited to partner with the conglomerate and “support a large base of farmers in a faster sequence.” The startup recently partnered with various state agricultural universities to provide farmers with quick soil testing and customized fertilizer recommendations at scale.
Interestingly, AgroNxt expects to double their team in the next six months. “We want to scale Bhu-Parikshak as a global brand for soil testing and add more product features from time to time,” said Vardhan. In the coming year, AgroNxt plans to unveil at least two more deep-tech solutions related to the field of agriculture (literally).