Travelogue 9: Drones, sub-surface irrigation, and other ‘game-changing’ technologies at BISA

By Marcous Phillips, University of Illinois student studying technical systems management

This series of posts was written by students in the ACES 298: Postharvest Loss Prevention study abroad program, which introduces participants to postharvest processes of grains and perishables and loss prevention in the Bihar and Punjab areas of India.

UIUC student Matt Niewiara gets a lesson in driving the postharvest fishery vehicle at CIPHET. Photo credit: ADMI/Shean Lin

UIUC student Matt Niewiara gets a lesson in driving the postharvest fishery vehicle at CIPHET. Photo credit: ADMI/Shean Lin

After almost two weeks of Indian food for breakfast, it was a nice change to see French toast and maple syrup on the menu. We started the day off by visiting the Central Institute of Post-Harvest Engineering & Technology (CIPHET). Dr. R.K. Gupta gave a welcoming introduction to the research being conducted at the site. We were given a firsthand view of their premiere cereal, fruits, vegetables, and fisheries post-harvest loss technology and research centers.

From there we went the Borlaug Institute of South Asia (BISA) facility. Here the BISA staff gave an awesome tour covering their intercropping strategy, sub-surface irrigation system, and drone technology. In the world of agriculture, their work in sub-surface irrigation is game-changing. It is bringing to light the economic and practical value of sub-surface irrigation compared to the other traditional irrigation systems. Sub-surface irrigation systems are showing good promise as they are able to drastically reduce the water usage for field crops. It was incredible to see rice, a heavily water-dependent crop, thrive using sub-surface irrigation. This technology will play a huge role in the next generation of agriculture water management.

BISA is also utilizing drone technology to motor crop growth patterns. We attached a student’s GoPro underneath the drone to capture a bird’s eye view of the facility. The drone took off, doing a flyover of our group then hovered out over the fields. On the ground, they showed us how they use the images collected from the drone to develop accurate measurements of growth and disease in the fields.

A demonstration of how the sub surface irrigation lines are uniformly put in the ground at BISA – Ludhiana. Photo credit: ADMI/Kathy Johnson

A demonstration of how the sub-surface irrigation lines are uniformly put in the ground at BISA – Ludhiana. Photo credit: ADMI/Kathy Johnson


BISA was kind of enough to cook a farm lunch for us. It was by far one of the best meals of the trip. The butter chicken made the whole meal, as there was a perfect harmony of sweet and spice, and it was cooked to fall-off-the-bone perfection.

After the BISA we headed to the family home of Dr. Deepak Kumar, one of our trip leaders from the ADM Institute. This was a highlight of the trip – it was an incredible experience. Everyone welcomed us like we were part of the family. They served homemade treats with this amazing fresh-squeezed orange juice. It was a one-of-a-kind experience to be able to talk with his family and learn firsthand about Indian culture and family origins.

Back at the hotel, we hit the streets with Professor Kalita for some late-night shopping. We toured the streets of Punjab looking for some deals. With many of the stores closed for a holiday, we took off for the mall. We decided to eat dinner there and found a local restaurant called the Blue Tandoor. They served excellent naan with fantastic chicken tikka. We ended the day back at the hotel, gearing up for the long trek back to Delhi the next day.

Marcous is a participant in the ACES 298: Postharvest Loss Prevention class organized by the ADM Institute for the Prevention of Postharvest Loss at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Throughout the 12-day trip, students interact with policy makers and business partners in the agriculture industry, and work with fellow students at Rajendra Agricultural University (RAU).

Read more blogs in this series:

Travelogue 1: Greetings from India
Travelogue 2: Fascinated by Indian culture, architecture
Travelogue 3: Leaving the city behind
Travelogue 4: Diving into PHL studies with RAU partners
Travelogue 5: To the villages of Bihar, we went
Travelogue 6: Stress in numbers for India rice losses
Travelogue 7: These issues impact all of humanity, we need to learn to work together
Travelogue 8: Like Buddha, seeking enlightenment through partnership
Travelogue 10: A fond farewell to India

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