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Futuristic farmers: Flowering mini-Holland in Punjab

punjab Updated: Feb 08, 2016 18:25 IST
Sukhdeep Kaur
Sukhdeep Kaur
Hindustan Times
futuristic farmers

Gurwinder Singh walking through his gladiolus field at Nanowal village in Fatehgarh Sahib district, thanking God for the day a light bulb went on his head. (Keshav Singh/HT Photo)

Driving through the mustard fields much used as a motif of Punjab by Bollywood, the gladiolus and marigold farm of 35-year-old Gurwinder Singh Sohi at Nanowal village in Fatehgarh Sahib appears like mini-Holland nestled in Punjab.

The burst of colours - pink, white, orange and yellow - not only breaks the monotony of a landscape dotted with the lush-green fields of wheat and orange kinnow stalls on the roadside, but also the traditional crop cycle of wheat and paddy.

It is the busy time of the year for Gurwinder as the ‘glad’, as he fondly calls his gladiolus plants, have to be cut before they flower since florists demand ones with a shelf life of at least 15 to 20 days.

His start-up is now a flourishing firm, RTS Flowers, that transports flowers to dealers in nearby Chandigarh, Ludhiana and Patiala. And, though Gurwinder did not pursue his graduation, he is a pro at marketing his gladiolas bulbs across the country through his firm’s Facebook page and trade websites such as Indiamart.

The flower is as good as its seed, literally. While the gladiolas sticks have to marketed at the right time, the seed bulbs have a shelf life of up to eight years and sell for Rs 2 a bulb, bringing him a profit of Rs 1.6 lakh a year an acre and the glad sticks fetch him another Rs 2 lakh an acre.

Round the year

From the eight acres on which he grew wheat and paddy, Gurwinder has now 18 acres - nine of his own and nine on lease - and he grows gladiolus on over 10 of these acres, both for flowers and bulbs. Since it is grown in September-October and harvested in January-March for flowers and till April for the bulbs, unlike the two-crop cycle of wheat and paddy, the same land gives him income round the year as two more crops can be grown in the remaining time. The sticks sell for up to Rs 7 each in the wedding season, though the average is Rs 3.

“After gladiolas, I grow pulses and then paddy, mainly basmati varieties. Marigold can be grown both in summer and winter, and I grow them at times on one acre of the same land. On the remaining land on lease, we grow wheat, maize and cattle fodder. This way we have no fear of our income drying up any time of the year.”

Reaping a fortune

And he reaps a fortune from every acre of gladiolus he grows. “The seeds of Holland variety are a one-time investment of Rs 1.6 lakh an acre - Rs 2 per bulb - and can be prepared from the next year from the plant itself. But floriculture is labour-intensive and we have three permanent workers and hire 20 more for sowing and seed extraction from February to April. The labour cost is up to Rs 40,000 an acre,” he says.

The marigold on one acre too brings in Rs 1.25 lakh to Rs 1.3 lakh each season. “The returns are far more rewarding than wheat and paddy that bring just Rs 30,000 and Rs 40,000 an acre, respectively; after deducting land lease and labour and other input cost, we are left with just half of this amount as profit,” he adds. While pulses grow fast and fetch Rs 22,000 per acre, basmati prices fluctuate each year; and last year, he says, was “no profit, no loss”.

Start-up after many failures

Success has not come easy to Gurwinder who tried his hands at many trades. After completing school, he could not clear the joint entrance test (JET) for engineering but refused to join the family business of wheat-paddy cultivation. He started growing mushrooms but soon found them not worth the effort and set up a sweets shop in the neighbouring town of Khamano.

He gave that up too, and took to horse-breeding and, later, to customising jeeps. In 2008, he learnt that the Punjab horticulture department was giving subsidy on Holland gladiolas seeds and was game for it. He started with growing it on two kanals and found it profitable. He kept adding acres under the Holland gladiolus that gives better quality flowers and bulbs and sells at a higher price than the local variety, Sylvia.

Farm to fork, the organic way

Gurwinder has now learnt the art and science of agri-marketing and wants to make his dream of farm-to-fork a reality. With little help from government departments on installing drip irrigation, solar pumps and purchasing agriculture equipment, his 12 friends and he have set up a Farmers’ Welfare Club with membership fee of Rs 5,000 each to buy machinery such as rotavator, power spray and seed drill. To cash in on the organic food boom, the club members are growing organic turmeric, pulses, maize and basmati.

But since the profits in the organic food industry are pocketed by big food stores, the club has started marketing the produce directly to customers by creating WhatsApp groups!

“We are directly selling organic pulses and vegetables to over 30 homes in Mohali via WhatsApp. To take farm-fresh food to many more homes, we would soon start our own web portal. A kilogram of organic dal we sell at Rs 100 is sold at stores in the city at double the price. Worse, it may not even be organic. Direct marketing would ensure both the farmer and consumer get a fair deal,” Gurwinder sums up. For this young entrepreneur who has returned to his fields, sky is now the limit.

Math of the matter

*Initial, one-time investment is Rs 1.6 lakh an acre, at Rs 2 per bulb of gladiolus

*Then on, bulbs can be produced by plants themselves, so no major capital expense

*Labour cost is up to Rs 40,000 an acre

*One stick sells for average Rs 3 each, while bulbs sell at Rs 2 each

*By selling bulbs and ‘glad’ sticks, one can earn up to Rs 3.5 lakh an acre

Via WhatsApp

Besides gladiolus, Gurwinder Singh grows organic pulses and other crops, which he and his group of friends sell directly to customers by creating WhatsApp groups! “We are directly selling organic pulses and vegetables to over 30 homes in Mohali via WhatsApp. To take farm-fresh food to many more homes, we would soon start our own web portal. A kilogram of organic dal we sell at Rs 100 is sold at stores in the city at double the price,” Gurwinder says.

Tomorrow: Exotic way to grow

Read earlier parts of the series

Riding pigs to prosperity

A honey trap that’s worth it

Berries and melons, it’s an exotic crop cycle in Punjab

Futuristic Farmers-4: Milking profit, not cattle class anymore

Futuristic farmers: Spicing it up with chilli farming