Soil no bar: Gu­jarat farm­ers take to tech­nol­ogy to grow flow­ers, fruits

The Economic Times - - Out Of The Freedom From Economics - Av­inash Nair

IN GU­JARAT, farm­ers are shun­ning the soil. In a state where black cot­ton soil sup­ported record har­vests of sug­ar­cane and cot­ton crops for gen­er­a­tions, farm­ers are chang­ing gears and go­ing hi-tech. Eye­ing the huge ex­port mar­ket, es­pe­cially for ex­otic flow­ers, farm­ers are cosy­ing up to hy­dro­pon­ics — a “soil-less sys­tem of grow­ing plants”.

In spite of be­ing cap­i­tal in­ten­sive, at present, about seven farm­ers in south Gu­jarat have adopted this tech­nol­ogy for grow­ing dif­fer­ent va­ri­eties of ex­otic hy­brid tea roses. Lo­calised ex­per­i­ments have also shown that other ex­otic crops like straw­berry, green gar­lic and toma­toes can also be grown us­ing this im­ported tech­nol­ogy.

It took an MBA from the US, Ku­mar Pa­tel of Best Roses, the big­gest user of this cap­i­tal-in­ten­sive cul­ti­va­tion sys­tem in South Gu­jarat, to in­cor­po­rate this tech­nol­ogy in his farm. He cur­rently pro­duces 10 mil­lion rose stems worth about Rs 5 crore, all of which is flown to over­seas flower mar­kets in Ja­pan, New Zealand and Europe. He, now plans to dou­ble his pro­duc­tion to 20 mil­lion rose stems by in­stalling the hy­dro­pon­ics sys­tem on 12 hectares in Kuched vil­lage of Navsari dis­trict. His suc­cess has rubbed on to oth­ers as well.

“Though the cost for set­ting up the hy­dro­pon­ics sys­tem is as high as Rs 1.25 crore for one hectare, the higher per­cent­age of yield and su­pe­rior crop qual­ity are the main at­trac­tions for the farm­ers in this re­gion”, Mr Pa­tel said.

Hav­ing in­stalled this sys­tem worth about Rs 8 crore on six hectares in Kuched vil­lage, Mr Pa­tel has achieved 30% rise in pro­duc­tion. “The ad­van­tage of this sys­tem, im­ported from Is­rael, is that a farmer can lit­er­ally con­trol the growth of the plants by reg­u­lat­ing the amount of wa­ter and nu­tri­ents fed to the plants”, he said while ex­plain­ing about hy­dro­pon­ics, a tech­nol­ogy tar- geted at achiev­ing high-den­sity pro­duc­tion in ar­eas where suit­able soil or cli­mate does not ex­ist for cul­ti­va­tion. Mr Pa­tel has also suc­cess­fully ex­per­i­mented with this tech­nol­ogy, us­ing it to grow ger­bera, toma­toes, green gar­lic and straw­berry. “The black cot­ton soil avail­able in this re­gion is not favourable for grow­ing ex­otic crops. Hy­dro­pon­ics has helped in over­com­ing the hur­dles posed by soil,” he re­marked.

Pune-based turnkey con­sul­tants, Flora Con­sult, which had helped Best Roses set up the sys­tem three years ago is now help­ing a vit­ri­fied-tile in­dus­try set up a clus­ter of seven projects of ex­otic hy­brid tea roses in Varawav vil­lage near Idar, Sabarkan­tha dis­trict of North Gu­jarat.

“The­up­com­ingLand­markA­grotech project is the sec­ond big hy­dro­pon­ics project in Gu­jarat and is cur­rently un­der im­ple­men­ta­tion. It will house 4.80 lakh saplings which will be ready for har­vest by De­cem­ber,” Flora Con­sult chief con­sul­tant Praveen Sharma said.

“One hectare of rose plan­ta­tions costs about Rs 1.4 crore. More­over, here we are in­stalling an RO (re­verse os­mo­sis) plant and a re­cir­cu­la­tion sys­tem where the wa­ter and nu­tri­ents fed to the plants will be col­lected and reused,” Mr Sharma added.

Hy­dro­pon­ics or soil-less cul­ture is a tech­nol­ogy for grow­ing plants in nu­tri­ent so­lu­tions that sup­ply all es­sen­tial el­e­ments needed for op­ti­mum plant growth with or with­out the use of an in­ert medium such as gravel, saw or coir dust, co­co­peat (co­conut fi­bre) to pro­vide the nec­es­sary me­chan­i­cal sup­port, ex­plained Mr Ku­mar. “In In­dia, co­co­peat is used be­cause of its easy avail­abil­ity,” he added.

Ac­cord­ing to him, in­stalling such a hi-tech sys­tem in­cludes con­struc­tion of green houses, stands, drip ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tems, cen­tralised spray sys­tems, fer­ti­ga­tion ma­chin­ery and wa­ter tanks. “At times, soil poses se­ri­ous lim­i­ta­tions to plant growth. Pres­ence of dis­ease caus­ing mi­crobes, un­favourable soil, fer­til­ity and other fac­tors af­fect the plants and their yield,” said an­other farmer, Nilam De­sai, who has two hy­brid tea rose projects in one hectare in Wachar­wad vil­lage of Navsari dis­trict of South Gu­jarat.

“By us­ing this tech­nol­ogy, we have man­aged to con­trol the qual­ity of the roses. We are now get­ting su­pe­rior colour com­bi­na­tions in roses, longer stems and have also man­aged to con­trol pests,” said Mr De­sai about his projects which grows five va­ri­eties of roses and churns out a turnover of Rs 40 lakh. “Of the 11 lakh stems we har­vest, 90% is ex­ported,” he added.

“In the next 2-3 years, we are plan­ning to dou­ble the area un­der hy­dro­pon­ics sys­tems,” he said adding that the yield from us­ing the sys­tem was higher than cul­ti­vat­ing con­ven­tional crops like sug­ar­cane and man­goes.

Sim­i­larly, Mr Ku­mar is also plan­ning to dou­ble the area un­der hy­dro­pon­ics to 12 hectares. “In the next three years, we are plan­ning to in­crease our pro­duc­tion to 20 mil­lion roses from the cur­rent 10 mil­lion,” he re­marked.

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