Promising farming venture

Whenever 35-year-old BN Srinath, a mechanical engineer, heard farmers complaining that agriculture is not profitable, he would be left searching for reasons for the same.

As nobody’s answers were convincing, he was left with no option but to set out on a journey to find out the answers for himself. 

Srinath has two acre farmland near Chikkaballapur town, which was being looked after by his relatives. “It is commonly believed that farming does not yield much money. I always wondered why farming could not be a profit-making initiative,” he says. About one-and-half years ago, he discussed his plans with his parents and wife who were supportive of him.

Overcoming hurdles

Srinath had to face a few initial hurdles. His relatives had grown jowar crop on the uneven land. Initially, he levelled the land, erected fences and tested the soil quality.

He got mud from a lake, about half a kilometre away from his field and spent about Rs 1 lakh to transport over 1,000 tractor loads of mud.

“I got the soil from my farmland tested at a centre in Doddaballapur. The results were discouraging as the soil lacked required micronutrients. However, the mud from the lake bed made the soil more fertile,” he says.

The next step was to have proper fencing across the borders. “I had to make a few crucial decisions. I had to choose an economically viable crop that needs less water. As Chikkaballapur faced water crisis, I had to utilise available water judiciously,” he says. 

After consulting with the Horticulture Department, he zeroed in on banana cultivation as it requires less human resources to maintain. He adopted drip irrigation method to use every drop of water effectively. He had to depend upon his family members to help him in his endeavour as his efforts to rope in local farm labourers failed.

Srinath’s innings as a farmer began on August 15, 2018. He planted 1,500 tissue-culture robusta banana saplings. 

“I did a bit of research to know the ideal months to plant banana saplings. I had to harvest when there would be more demand for bananas in the market,” he said.

Catering to market needs

Normally, June and July months witness good demand for bananas in the region. Bananas will be ready for harvest months after the saplings are planted. 

Considering these vital leads, he planted the saplings in August so that bananas would be ready for harvest by June-July. The real challenge for him was after the plantation. He had to visit the farm regularly and monitor if everything was progressing as per plan. As he was working in Bengaluru, he visited the plantation on Sundays and other holidays. On other days, his mother would visit the farm.

In the meanwhile, it occurred to him that he can opt for mixed cropping. “I wanted to experiment and sow chilli seeds. I felt it may ensure additional income,” he says.

Before June arrived, he had to find out ways to market bananas successfully. “My relative Pradeep and friend Sriram apprised me about the market trends, middlemen and possibilities of direct sale,” he adds. 

By then, Srinath had read about a retail network of fruits and vegetables. He approached them and got into an informal agreement to supply bananas to them directly. “As per the agreement, I had to pack the bananas, while the retail team would ferry them from my farm,” he said.

The move helped him in two ways. It helped him solve the labour problem and get better prices. “I began the first harvest in June end,” he says. 

It was a pretty reasonable bargain for him. One kilogram of banana was priced between Rs 6 and Rs 9 in January. It was priced between Rs 18 and Rs 20 in June and July. One bunch of banana weighs about 55 kg in his field and it fetches about Rs 1,100.

He says water shortage and intense summer led to less yield this year. Srinath has invested Rs 9.50 lakh so far. About 75% of the total investment has been recovered after the first harvest, he says.

“Investment in the banana crop is less as fencing, land levelling and drip irrigation are long-term investments and can be used for other purposes as well,” he points out.

He did not make much profit by growing chillies due to the less demand in the region. “But it was a learning experience and we got enough for household use,” he says.

The mechanical engineer says his venture has taught him valuable nuances of agriculture. 

Farmers get only a paltry sum for their efforts because the brokers end up pocketing most of the profit. Farmers can hope for nothing more than bare survival until this equation changes, he stresses.

“I am convinced that farming can be profitable if there is sufficient water and farmers can market their produce directly,” he adds.

Srinath’s success story is an inspiration for those who want to make a career out of farming.

 

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