Vertical Agriculture and Its feasibility in india
Vertical Farming in India – Is it a Fad or the future
There is a lot of enthusiasm around the industry when there is something new in the industry. The hype, marketing, propaganda and the bling of something new, bring a lot of people around it. Vertical farming is not new to the world. But it’s relatively new to the majority of farmers in India. At first sight, everyone is bound to have their mouth wide open when they see the prospects of vertical farming or any new technology for that matter. But is it all true? What is the cost of venturing into vertical farming? is it possible for a normal farmer in India to move to vertical farming and is it necessary?
These are a lot of questions. farmers must find their answers to these questions. Let’s see things from a different perspective here. Yes, vertical farming is a new technology and there are a lot of possibilities but how much and what are the possibilities? Let’s begin with What can be grown in a vertical farm, then we will move into what is required in terms of investment, then the knowledge involved and finally how feasible it is in your area.
What can be grown in a vertical farming
Theoretically, Anything can be grown on a vertical farm. You could grow almost any horticulture plant except those which grow as trees. The most feasible ones are leafy vegetables. Cauli flowers, Cabbages, Lettuce, Bok Choy, chard and watercress apart from a lot of herbs. then comes the next variety which is a bit harder to grow as compared to the leafy vegetables. These are the actual vegetables and fruits. Strawberries & Tomatoes are the most commonly grown vegetables/fruits in vertical farms.
most other vegetables, even when grown in vertical farms require a lot more care, expertise and tweaks, specific to each plant. Before we go any further, just look at the list of plants cultivated successfully with vertical farming. Most of them are leafy vegetables of which more than 75% of them are not used regularly in Indian homes. Lettuce is rarely if ever consumed by Indians. the only time people get to consume lettuce is when they choose to eat burgers from McDonald’s. the only vegetable which is consumed widely from the above list is cauliflowers and cabbages, which are cultivated in abundance in open farms and are cheap.
Yes, you can turn vertical farming profitable if you can find a market for these exotic products. If you can supply to restaurants and grocers who sell lettuces and bok choy and if they are willing to purchase from you regularly, yes, your venture very successful. otherwise, chances are you will be growing a lot of food which will never be sold or you may have to sell them below your profit margin.
how much does it cost for a vertical farm to be set up?
There is always someone who will create something cheap. A cheaper version of a vertical farming model is available online too. The question is the life of the product and its feasibility. With a good setup, chances are that it will last years and sometimes even decades. With cheaper models, you will have to change the setup in 2-3 years and even during those 2 years you will have a lot of changes, corrections and repairs which will cost you money, time and loss of crops.
A good setup is going to cost you not in thousands but in lakhs. the price of setting up a vertical farm setup on 1 acre of land is estimated to be 1..2 crores to 1.5 crores. That’s, not the kind of money most farmers will have. Even a smaller setup will cost more than what most farmers can afford. unfortunately, not all farmers can recover this cost from the produce. A good setup will also require technical knowledge and cannot be constructed by a local plumber and an electrician. Technical assistance also requires cost.
Overall, a vertical farm is not something you can set up and start making money. it requires a lot of input, straight from the beginning
What else is required if you can invest the amount for the setup?
The next phase is the entire process and the learning curve. Unlike traditional farming, Vertical agriculture is done indoors in a closed and controlled environment. While this may seem like a breeze and easy at first sight, a controlled environment means everything is in your hands. Excess water or more water will both be a problem. Knowing how much water is required is in your hands. The fertilizers you are required to provide in the schedule are also your responsibility. the types of fertilizers are different too. the growing media is different and so are the light and light requirements during each phase of plant growth.
The learning curve for setting up a vertical farm is far more than that of traditional farming. Unlike traditional farming, where you have 70% hands-free time, you will have no time with vertical farming. the day begins with checking the water ph and ends with ensuring your setup is in full order. This is repeated day in and day out. Though the requirement for manpower is low, there are no weeding processes and the plants grow extremely well in a controlled environment, the effort involved is extremely high and so is the learning curve.
Apart from the learning curve, you also need to ensure that the entire setup is running perfectly well. There should be no power cuts for more than an hour. A backup should be considered. this requires money. if your backup fails for more than an hour or two and your unit does not have power, the plants may survive (depending on what crop you have) but chances are they will all go wasted and you may have to start again if you don’t know to manage the unit.
Feasibility of vertical farming in India
as mentioned, there are a few problems with vertical farming and the first one is the crops grown. With a limited variety of crops grown in vertical farms, the question arises if you can find the market to sell these products in the market. The only feasible crop which is available in the market and easy to sell are cabbages, cauliflowers, tomatoes and a few Indian greens. With a setup of 1 Crore, and a yield of even 150 Tonnes per crop in 3 months you would make a gross of 66,000,00 rupees per crop and 2,34,000,00 Rs in a year if you plant it in a cycle of 3 months. This may seem like a very good amount but let me remind you that it’s the gross price and it’s with the current market price of 44 rs per kilo which is more than 50% higher than the off-season price. With the prices going down and the expenses remaining the same, you would not make more than 1.2 crores per year in gross revenue. If you remove all the expenses you would be left out with maybe 40 Lakh rupees. With an investment of 1.5 crore rupees, you would take 4 years to recover the amount you invested.
When it comes to tomatoes, it’s even worse as the prices could hit rock bottom at 3-4 rs per kilo during off-seasons. Cauliflower is slightly more profitable.
The only crop which has been found successful so far in vertical farming in the Indian market is Turmeric and ginger. Fortunately, these products have a shelf life and can be dried and processed too (that takes time, effort and manpower though) but a profit from the second year is possible with these crops.