Vanilla Cultivation – Profits, Yield , Cost & Income Per Acre

Vanilla is High maintenance, High Return Crop which can be cultivated in parts of India. Cultivating vanilla is Labour intensive. The returns from the crop start from the third year of planting. Some plants may take up to 5 years to flower. The Vanilla flowers are pollinated by hand. In Nature, Vanilla is a plant native to Mexico. The plants are pollinated by a specific kind of bee only found in Mexico. Today, the crop cultivated elsewhere in the world requires manual pollination due to the lack of these orchid bees. Though many studies indicate pollination by hummingbirds and other bees, there has not been any substantial evidence.

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In the year 2004 When Madagascar was at its peak of Vanilla Cultivation and the sole leader in Vanilla production, crops in Madagascar were destroyed and prices shot up to $400 a kilo. The prices dropped to $20 the next year with a lot of imitation products and a lack of demand. The price shot up again in 2017 with cyclones in Madagascar. 

In 2018, Madagascar and Indonesia were the top 2 producers of vanilla. While most companies were moving from artificial flavors to natural ones, many food manufacturers who were using Lignin, an alternative to Vanilla, started moving towards original vanilla. This drove the prices to the peak again.

Today Vanilla is the second most expensive spice in the world after saffron.

Is vanilla cultivation profitable in India?

To begin with, Vanilla can be cultivated only in a few areas in India. Parts of Kerala and Karnataka are proven to be suitable for Vanilla. While the prices of Vanilla bean in the market seems enticing, there is a lot of work involved. Nevertheless, The price of 40,000 – 50,000 Rs per Kilo of dry vanilla bean is very good. Even with as little as 100 plants, the possibility of earning up to 3-4 Lakh rupees (if the current price is consistent) is possible. Many farmers in India are earning a lot more than 3-4 lakh rupees every year from one acre of vanilla cultivation. 

If you notice carefully, Any crop which is hard to grow has a price value that is much higher than a crop that is considerably easier to grow. The price for vanilla is so high not just because it’s the most widely consumed product. It’s also one of the hardest to grow. vAnilla depends on weather conditions, requires hand pollination, and takes a lot of time and care to grow. A pod once pollinated takes 9 months to mature and each plant grows only 4 bunches of quality beans a year. 

Hand pollinating a vanilla flower:

Vanilla flowers are large and fragrant. But native bees in India are not pollinators of the flower. The need to hand pollinate the flowers is labor-intensive and has to be done in the early hours of the day. The fact that the flowers only have a blooming life of a day makes the processing time-sensitive too. The vanilla vines are vigorous growers and can reach a height of 200 feet. Since hand pollination can only be practiced commercially at a reasonable height of 6-8 feet, the vines are limited to growing to a 6-8 feet height too. Vines that are longer are usually pruned. If the vines are allowed to grow tall, the flowers on the lower portion of the plants are pollinated while leaving the top part untouched. The top part can be used to propagate more plants when needed. Its also to be noted that the bean which is pollinated from the lower part of the vine is much healthier and of better quality.

Processing and Curing of Vanilla:

Vanilla cultivation ends not just with harvesting but goes further. The harvested beans are removed from the stem (which holds the bunch) and are separated as individual pods. The pods are then submerged in hot water (70 degrees Celsius) for 3 minutes after which they are packed in a plastic bag to sweat. The sweating process takes 12-24 hours and is then sun-dried. The entire process may take a week to 10 days to get the right humidity level and quality. 

If the farmer intends to get a better price, the dried beans are then graded by size too and packed in vacuum-sealed bags. 

The growing of vanilla plants by itself requires certain conditions like tropical weather. This limits the area where vanilla cultivation is possible. Added to this is the cost and time of growing, pollinating, and then processing the bean. All this eats upon the profit of the farmer. Even then, the possibility of making a significant profit from Vanilla farming is possible.

How much profit can you make from an acre vanilla farm depends on the number of plants and how much manpower you have to pollinate the plant and other resources. Because you have sufficient resources and manpower, you can expect a yield of 500 KG which is approximately 20,00,000 Rs per Acre in a year from the 4th year as gross income and approximately 10,00,000 or more in profit. This is if one acre has approximately 1000 plants and the per kilo of vanilla cost is 4000 Rs for Green beans. The prices today are 40,000 Per kg for dry beans once cured and processed. The profit indeed is much much higher for vanilla crops than estimated.

Vanilla Curing

Propagation of vanilla plants from stem cuttings

Vanilla plants are propagated from cuttings. The length of the cutting should be between 60-120 centimeters. Shorter cuttings will take more time to grow and will result in a longer period to flower and fruit. Cuttings are usually rooted first in a potting medium before planting in the field. Rooting the medium is known to have a higher success rate with a reduced mortality rate in plants. It’s always recommended to propagate smaller cuttings in a nursery before planting them directly into the field.

Vanilla cuttings from the mature stem are known to yield fruits and flowers faster. Flowering starts when the vine is at least .25 to .5 inches in diameter. So when mature vines are planted, the chances of them flowering are much faster.

Vanilla is prone to fungal diseases and its recommended that the cuttings be treated with copper Oxychloride and Bordeaux mix. Once treated, the cuttings are left to partially dry or remove some moisture for 3 days. This is done in a cool shaded area, free from moisture. The storage increases the rooting ability of the cuttings. The storage period could vary anywhere from 3 to 10 days. A recommended period of 3 days is usually practiced.

Once the plants are set in the shade for 3 days, they are then moved to the potting media and tended in shade for 2-3 months or when they are ready to be planted outdoors. 

Vanilla varieties

Unlike the common notion that there is one superior quality, in vanilla, each of the 3 varieties has a quality that is distinct and preferred by a set of customers or industry. The most common variety of vanilla produced all over the world today is the bourbon variety, scientifically called the Vanilla planifolia. This is the variety that is cultivated in Madagascar. The main reason why this plant is popular is that it is hand pollinated (which does not require solitary bees). The pods of the bourbon vanilla are also much thicker and fleshier. The yield of vanillin is also higher in these plants. 

The other varieties which include the Tahitian and Mexican are also different in their notes, texture, and taste. Tahitian Vanilla is widely used in perfumes. The Mexican variety is used very similarly to the Madagascar variety but is often pollinated by bees, which results in mediocre yield and quality. Nevertheless, each of the varieties has its unique qualities. To know more about the varieties and their uses, visit https://greatist.com/eat/what-is-the-difference-between-types-of-vanilla#madagascar

Vanilla Crop Cultivation And Basic Information on Growing requirements.

Like all crops vanilla too requires certain conditions to be met when it comes to cultivating them. There are soil conditions, weather conditions, and fertilizer requirements for any plant and it varies from plant to plant. Vanilla, plant is from the orchid family and requires tropical weather conditions. There are pests and diseases which affect the plant and require care for. Also when it comes to the commercial cultivation of vanilla, there is an intense need for skilled manpower. For most other crops, the need for skilled manpower is much lesser than that of vanilla needs. Let’s look at each of the requirements one after the other to make a successful vanilla plantation.