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