Why has hydroponics not really caught on in India?

I have read a little about Hydroponics and its benefits etc…
But I wonder why has not this technology become popular in India. Is it high initial capital? Or is it something else?

Would appreciate some views here…

because we have hydrophobia  ;D

on a more serious note based on my understanding, any new technology / approach is driven by many factors

  1. mind-set to accept change
  2. cost / benefits
  3. time
  4. will to drive / implement change (government)

majority of indian agriculture is traditional, it is difficult getting farmers to accept new ideas / technologies e.g. organic / water conservation etc, level of education and difficulting understanding / comprehension of longterm impacts a major issue

money, the kind of investment required by most new technologies e.g. hydroponics require capital investment, majority of farmers do not have this kind of money, the ones who have it are risk averse and enough paisa aa raha hai na tho aane do…kyon change karna ka kuch

government initiative, mostly de centralized and no common vision (although not denying that good work is also being done but majority is in silos)

regards,
Brijesh

Hi Brijesh,
Thanks for your views…
Let me ask you this - Is right now a good time to get into it? Why or why not?

Do you know any hydroponics projects in India that I can see?

apologies but these are very open ended questions which I may not be able to answer correctly

there is  thread running on this forum which has a hydroponic farm for capsicum, maybe you can get in touch with those guys

as for the first question
why would you want to get into this? any new idea if viable is good and early entrant can have early mover advantages but you may have to pay out more due to non availability of resources, guidance on the technology requirements etc.

if this is not going to make a major impact on your bottomline, what you could probably do is start off with a proof of concept which validates the technology, economics and other factors based on which you can decide to go commercial or make it a part of your full time strategy

again depends on what can be grown using hydroponics and do you see yourself growing those profitably

You are right…One can have an early adopter advantage…but the major problem is lack of info/knowledge etc…
I know there are couple of companies/individuals that are promoting this concept but I need to see more than that! I hope to visit some projects in the coming months - maybe things will be clearer then!

this is the link

farmnest.com/forum/new-trends-in … ltivation/

you can also speak to TNAU

techno-preneur.net/informati … ponics.pdf
G. Thiyagarajan, R. Umadevi & K. Ramesh
Water Technology Centre,
Tamil Nadu Agricultural University,
Coimbatore – 641 003.

agritech.tnau.ac.in/banking/crba … _bank.html (schemes for loans for new tech projects including hydroponics)

Hi Savera farms & Brijesh,

Hydroponics is an interesting topic that has been raised.  I have been following  this link (geekgardner.in) very enthusiastically. Nice info can be found here,

geekgardener.in/2011/06/20/growi … ontainers/

But in tropical places like India, why would any one go in for Hydroponics commercially. Land and the natures resources are pretty much abundant here  (Sunny climate with good rains ) in South India. I am told that initial investments runs into lakhs and lakhs. Instead of investing lakhs and lakhs into an acre of polyhouse and get 100 tons output, I think it would be more economical to buy more lands and get small yield, In any case this totals up to same.  ;D with land value fast approaching sky, one can get good returns also from this. Just my 2 annas.

Like roof top experiments / hobby as done above by geekgardener is good. Small scale for personal consumption.  Good to learn the plants response to the chemicals oops wrong word, nutrients (sounds more organic  ;D ). Lack or abundance of NPK and others. May be once you learn from this adopt similar recipe when grown in soil.

Regards

Murali

I kind of agree with Murali.

In the final analysis, it boils down to ‘why’ hydroponics. I can think of two main reasons - higher output per area and consistent quality.

When area is not a constraint, there is no visible benefit of intensive production - i.e., if you produce 10 times the yield per acre in hydroponics, you could as well go for 10 acres of normal cultivation where the higher cost of hydroponic cultivation balances out for the cost of land. Of course, this may make more sense once the land prices become astronomical the way they seem to be going. One will need to work out the economics on the fixed costs, operational costs and yields.

Coming to quality, while it is debatable if the quality of hydroponic produce is better, to the end customer it is not so much of a differentiator. What matters is the look and feel; assuming hydroponics has consistent good quality to the last piece, it would be economics again to compare vis-a-vis the mixed grades of produce in normal farming.

A downside I can think of from an overall project point of view is that land appreciation which is a major benefit in a regular farm project is not there in a hydroponics venture. While investment in a regular project generally appreciates over time, it depreciates in a hydroponic project.
While I do not want to start an organic farming vs. hydroponics debate on this topic, it appears to me both of these are diametrically opposite. In a way, hydroponic produce is like a person fully sustained on saline and other intravenous fluids in a hospital and I am not sure what would be the acceptance rate from the consumer when marketing it as a differentiated product, especially with a greater popularization of natural foods, which are the other extreme. Similar are the growing preferences for country chickens over broilers in India and open grown animal meat over stall fed in the west.
The risks of operating a hydroponic venture seem higher too, given the infrastructure, knowledge, skilled resources, automation, consistent power etc. that are required to run the farm.

Commercial hydroponics to me does not seem a new product innovation for the consumer, but a process change for the producer and hence economics and risk alone would drive a decision on adoption.

Hi everyone…

I am so glad to see so many views and it clearly shows the maturity with which people are looking at Hydroponics. Just to introduce myself, I am Atul Kalaskar from Pune and I did complete few proof of concept projects for cultivation of Strawberry and color Capsicum. I would like to add few of views and hope you will find it valuable.

For me it was simple business logic. Can I take Agriculture as a business? People open shops, factories and businesses every day so can Agriculture also be as “viable”? Sadly answer is no…All of us know the reason and they are many. Unlike other businesses one can never be sure what your output will be and can it have some USP? Organic produce is one such USP but I have found that for a commercial farming enterprise it is not a financially viable option.

This is where Hydroponics makes it’s impact felt. Through Hydroponics I am able to control various factors that affect the yield and it also helps me produce year round. Reliable, Financially viable and consistent quality production is why Hydroponics must be adopted by everyone.

Someone suggested use of more land but produce less which equals more production is less land is totally unacceptable. The person may not be aware the acute shortage of labor, he has not considered the waste of water, pollution through nutrients draining to soil all are making such farming impossible.

So bottom line why not many people are adopting this innovative idea?

First of course is initial investment. Not everyone can afford to invest 30 lakh to 2 crore (depending on the crop) per acre in fact they find it insane. Small farmers as such won’t go for it. It’s only when corporate companies will get into farming they will make  it a standard because their business logic won’t allow them to factor in variable yield.

Lack of knowledge / Guidance: The first thing people like to do is visit such a farm where technology is in use and only when they are satisfied by seeing they will start thinking seriously. Unfortunately there are not many active farms where people can see the technology in action. There is absolutely zero practical know how available in India and I am saying this from my personal experience. So it becomes even more hard for someone to invest so much money when there is no one who can clearly guide / advise.

Is it a good time to enter?
Absolutely …no doubts. Since there is not much competition in this field one can afford to get started small and grow from there. Once larger players settle in, you will find it more difficult to get in. On the other hand, you will also be more informed by seeing all around you the ventures and also a good support environment.

So at the end…there are pros and cons…but one thing is sure…if you enter and treat this as pure business chances of your success are bright. If you enter for the love of technology or with vision to change the world of poor farmers or if you think you can start on shoe string budget…you will be a failure.

Good Luck.

Nice perspective, Atul. Two questions:

  1. Why is there a first mover advantage in a ‘process’? I mean, what benefit does an early adopter get over someone starting hydroponics later on, since there does not appear to be any product differentiation.

  2. Do you have any comparative numbers on the labour requirements and cost (considering skilled vs. unskilled labour) vis-a-vis regular farming on a per tonne basis?

Thanks.

[color=red]1) Why is there a first mover advantage in a ‘process’? I mean, what benefit does an early adopter get over someone starting hydroponics later on, since there does not appear to be any product differentiation.[/color]

Are you sure there is no product differentiation? How about year round production? How about “Residue Free” produce? How about most nutritionally complete produce? How about ensuring all above are true with every harvest?

So if your farm is producing best quality, high in nutritional value, safe and chemical free, consistent and year round produce, isn’t that a recipe of a successful business? First movers advantages are always there. Ask Maruti, ask Tata’s, ask Amazon, ask anyone who took that first step. Yes there is a risk too and there are many hydroponics businesses failed in US and Europe.

So as I said, look at it as a business, study the crop that you wish to grow, do the market analysis, make a business plan then choose the appropriate technology that alone will guide you to success.

[color=red]2) Do you have any comparative numbers on the labour requirements and cost (considering skilled vs. unskilled labour) vis-a-vis regular farming on a per tonne basis?
[/color]

You tell me…Cultivating 5 acre land instead of 1 acre which will require less labour? Where do you need labour in traditional agriculture the most? Land preparing, weeding, irrigation, spraying…all these tasks are either totally removed, automated or reduced in Hydroponic operations.

I was able to man the 1/2 acre proof of concept color capsicum project with 4 people and let me tell you as your farm size grows the labour requirement even goes down per acre basis.

In fact in my upcoming major project, I intend to use people who otherwise cannot get a job in the open market. People such as those who are physically challenged, mentally challenged and so on. I really want to see this comes true.

Atul - When you say, produce is chemical free, can you term it as “organic”? I know this tech uses nutrients and mediums but is it really chemical free?

I second with you that why cultivate 5 acres when you can get the same tonnage from 1 acre. We need to see per acre prodcuctivity and not the total tonnage. Not to forget the additional expense incurred in maintaining 5 acres…

This technology is interesting and I am still studying it. I found that the tech has been around for several decades but still has not managed to become household name, atleast for the agri enthusiasts (like drip etc…) This is what is puzzling me…
Maybe it is in infancy, but then 40-50 years is a lot of time for the tech to mature and even evolve!!

@atul
Thanks, this is good information. That you almost take criticism of hydroponics personally points to your level of passion about the technology! I would however be interested to know more on a few points if you are willing to explain.

  • Year round production - how is this different from non-hydroponic green houses? Also how do you achieve this - by climate control?
  • “Residue Free” produce - why is this residue free compared to normal production? Do you not need to use any pesticides? Don’t the nutrients used leave any residues? (similar to saverafarms’ point)
  • Most nutritionally complete produce - is this due to the nutrients supplied to the plants?

Good to know the labour requirement is indeed less in practice - my question was because I wasn’t sure if the extra skill needed will offset the smaller labour requirement advantage.
And kudos to your noble intention to support the under privileged - I am sure that will also help you in the form of loyal employees.

@saverafarms:

[color=red]Atul - When you say, produce is chemical free, can you term it as “organic”?[/color]
Here is very interesting point. Just to give an anology, Lets say I am a vegetarian but I drink milk, now am I really a vegetarian? I eat eggs am I a vegetarian?

In my experience, the technology and materials that I use are 100% natural such as coco peat, water, natural salts etc. Now as per organic definition “if it comes from living or dead animal / plant then only it is considered organic.” With this definition in context, nutrient salts though 100% natural are not derived from living or dead animal / plant and thus on technical grounds hydroponics that uses nutrient salts is non organic. If you ask me they are better than “Organic”.

==================

[color=red]I know this tech uses nutrients and mediums but is it really chemical free?[/color]

At the end of the day every matter ever existed is made up of chemicals one way or other, so when we say chemical free we mean free of harmful or excessive deposits of chemicals that is harmful to humans with prolonged exposure. Chemical free or zero residue status is an indication of plant / fruit that has either no traces of harmful chemical elements or exists in quantities which are not harmful to humans even after prolonged exposure.
If plants are weak they are easily attacked by diseases or if the growing environment is unhygienic then the chances of disease are more. Hydroponics ensures minimal opportunity is extended to diseases to attack the plant and thus use of fungicide / pesticide is much lower.

Use of bio controls is more effective in a closed environment as bio controls themselves are not attacked. so the goal of every grower should be to protect it’s crop by every possible (legal) means and to ensure when the harvest is dispatched for consumption it has zero residue. We owe that to our buyers.

[color=red]This technology is interesting and I am still studying it. I found that the tech has been around for several decades but still has not managed to become household name, atleast for the agri enthusiasts (like drip etc…) This is what is puzzling me…
Maybe it is in infancy, but then 40-50 years is a lot of time for the tech to mature and even evolve!! [/color]

Lot of progress has been made and there is a huge potential. In advance world the cost of energy and manpower are two big negatives for this kind of farming and that is where India has a lead.
Yes…let me tell you it is not easy. Agriculture can be done by almost any one but for hydroponics you better be a master of plant pathology, technology, management, marketing and finance.

[color=red]@atul
Thanks, this is good information. That you almost take criticism of hydroponics personally points to your level of passion about the technology! I would however be interested to know more on a few points if you are willing to explain.[/color]

I am passionate for sure but if it appears that I am taking things personally then I am sorry, I really wish to see people understand it in right sense and do not get carried away with wrong ideas or dreams.

[color=red]- Year round production - how is this different from non-hydroponic green houses? Also how do you achieve this - by climate control?[/color]

I have seen extended prduction cycles in greenhouse cultivations but never really saw year round production. For examplem Capsicum is impossible to grow in same green house year after year because soil will not allow it and you will be loosing most of your plants to disease. Only when you go soil less it becomes a reality. Climate control is also a beneficial but depends on your location. Artificial lighting too essential for year long production. By ensuring the above factors you are basically turning your farm into a factory where your production is almost certain.

[color=red]- “Residue Free” produce - why is this residue free compared to normal production? Do you not need to use any pesticides? Don’t the nutrients used leave any residues? (similar to saverafarms’ point)

  • Most nutritionally complete produce - is this due to the nutrients supplied to the plants?[/color]

Protected environment coupled with natural agents such as neem etc provides further strength to plants which are already stronger due to good nutrition. Thus they are able to defend themselves pretty well against disease and pests. This reduces the use of chemicals. Further well informed IPM program ensures that there is zero residue when harvest is undertaken.

Higher Nutritional status is a end result of proper nutrients, sunlight, O2, CO2 and water along with less stressful environment.

[color=red]Good to know the labour requirement is indeed less in practice - my question was because I wasn’t sure if the extra skill needed will offset the smaller labour requirement advantage.[/color]

You will need a someone who is has an experienced eye when it comes to plant diseases and pests but other than that rest can be able bodied labour whose jobs can be streamlined to the core and thus can be easily replicated or learned by new comer.

Hi,

Nice topic here, well explained by Atul. I have also seen the video posted by Atul. The plants growth & its vigor are fantastic. The capsicum plant has grown without a care for anything, big leaves, dark green color etc. So are the veggies grown by  geekgardner under hydroponics.

At the end of the day, we are all made of only 130 or odd of elements discovered. Max being carbon, oxygen & Hydrogen and a combination of these. To dispell the myth (Organic or inorganic)  Oxygen is Oxygen, whether generated by a plant or from a chemical reaction, Its simply O2, nothing else !! A good market for Organic Oxygen to be bottled in cylinders for use in ICU at hospitals  ;D

But what Savera farms has expressed is it is still at infancy. Reason being,  all of hydroponics farming is limited to only plants that have a life cycle of a few months. Strawberry, Capsicum, some flowers etc that has a duration of 3 to 4 months of life.

But has any one tried it out on trees or some horticultural produce viz Mango, Sapota or  Banana ?.  If this is the case in which the growth vigor can be seen, then one can really try it out on Teak, Sandal or some other timber trees etc.  Teak requires atleast 20 to 30 years @ 300 plus inch rainfall per year, sandal too is pathetic, I have a plant next door of one inch dia which is 30 years old. It is simply refusing to fatten up and to be a proud tree !! The real benefit of Hydroponics would be on this.

Can any one who has the tech at his hands, try out hydroponics on this for a year or so and see the growth vigor ? May be Saverafarms can try it out on a few Meluia Dubia which naturally grows fast. 

Once my farming activity kick starts, I will try it out on Teak and see what happens. (I will plant it in soil and feed it with nutrients ). But for teak, its natural habitat is tropical rain forests .  Any idea apart from heavy rains year on year and time , what else is essential for its growth ??

Regards

Murali

[font=courier]Interesting discussion.[/font]

[font=courier]Beg to differ… Yes, all plants and animals are made up of these 130 elements. Yet, there is more to it than mere elements. If they are the same, whether generated from plant or chemical reaction, why take the trouble of taking them from plant, i.e.-
Growing food?!  One can take all the elements contained in the human body; prepare them chemically and straightaway consume them in required quantities and proportions, right?!

There is something called ‘Guna’ in Sanskrit. The closest translation in English to this would be ‘Virtue’. Well, there’s always the goodness, quality associated with the elements that make them inferior or superior. It could be because of the energy charge that these elements carry, or the particular state they are in, or the way they are oriented, all these qualities are derived from the way these elements have originated.

Have a look at Water (chemical formula H20). All waters confirm to H2O on lab analysis, does it mean all waters are the same? Why is there a difference between rain –water, tap-water, micro-waved water and vortex charged water? Precisely because of charge or energy induced on these waters based on where they come from. Try using tap-water and micro-waved water (water heated in a micro-wave and allowed to cool down) for irrigating plants, there’ll will a difference. So too if both are tried and compared in cooking or preparing juices. The one with microwave water will be inferior, less tasty and spoils quicker. Why do vortex-energised waters exhibit lower surface tension than regular water?  Why do vortex –energised waters ,when used to make concrete, produce concrete that is 50% more dense using lesser quantities of water, compared to concrete mixed using regular water? This is why one needs to look beyond chemical, molecular formulas.

It has been proven beyond doubt that soil grown crops give the highest quality of nutrition and taste, more so when organically grown. There is always ample reason and logic to support this fact.[/font]

[font=courier]regards,
cowherd[/font]

@Cowheard,

Few good points but sadly they are not at all related.

Food that we eat has a satiety value and thus it is impossible to replace it but it is also directly related to our feelings and taste. It is impossible to replicate nature as of today but who knows about tomorrow? Today we do take vitamin supplements and other foods which are enriched with required elements if they had no “Guna” they would never have worked for us? Your point only illustrates that we have a long way to go but we are on the right path. Energy of course is concept not fully understood by all of us so as of today we can say it exists and it affects us but we don’t know fully it’s various forms, how it is handled, transferred (since it cannot be created) and used in a manner that we want. Vortex is the same beast. Known but not understood fully and proved.

Examples of water are false. Microwave water or any water that is boiled is depleted of dissolved oxygen which makes it useless for plants as the roots do need dissolved oxygen in excess of 8ppm. Tap water (dissolved chemicals such as chlorine and others), Rain water (higher dissolved oxygen and presence of H2O2), Microwave water (No oxygen), Vortex water (same as rain water…maybe) they all look same but are they really? They are not because of lack or presence of oxygen and other chemicals. Just an example, if rain water is so good then why do we have acid rain problem? If vortex charged water in concrete makes it 50% stronger then why it is not a norm? So interesting to read but examples are faulty.

Soil grown crops giving highest quality is total false argument. They have certainly set the standards against which we have to compare the results of technology such as hydroponics. One must realize what is the goals here. Goal here is to produce nutritionally rich, safe produce in a continuous manner which is environmentally friendly and makes a good business sense.

Organic / hydroponics are the tools to achieve that. If you have an acre of land and family of 4 to feed then going organic is your best option since it will be way too cheaper to let the nature do the work for you. If you are looking at feeding 8 billion people then naturally Organic is impossible and will never ever make it.

Hydroponics just makes sure that agriculture as a business is viable because it is the most resource efficient and controlled way of agriculture while organic is most inefficient and least controlled way of doing it, though both can produce equally good / bad produce.

Cheers!!!

Dear Atul,

Since you are deeply involved in the technology of Hydroponics and already have the wherewithal to carry out production it would be really beneficial for we geeks to know more about your other experiments.

I am sure side by side to your normal production of produce you must be trying this out on other plant / tree species. Can you share your experiences on such expts. I am told that Banana plants are the most suited for such expts as one can immediately see the results on the plant. Also this happens to be in between a plant and a tree. But supporting this banana plant would be a challenge as much structural support is needed.

Do share your other expt results.

Regards

Murali

[font=courier]Dear Atul,[/font]

[font=courier]Yes, you are what you eat, what you eat is what the plants eat. Hence the plant nutrition is reflected on human health or vice versa, human health indicates state of plant nutrition.[/font]

[font=courier]Abiding by nature is only possible, replicating nature by artificial means is impossible; since I don’t want to disappoint you I’d say, all the best, try your best![/font]

[font=courier]Ever wondered why we needed to take vitamin supplements in the first place? It is only because they are lacking in our regular chemical grown food. This is the Nir-Guna ( lack of Guna) I was referring to.[/font]

[font=courier]Regarding the water examples -I referring to Murali’s opinion that irrespective of where the elements come from (from nature or artificial) once they confirm to a chemical formula they are all the same.

What I was implying was that despite the same formula they do different characteristics and varied potential. Once, was associated with a  team studying the effect of microbes on plant growth. Naturally, while studying microbes we were also looking at the different mediums that microbes performed well in. We had experimented with water. Any water that was vortex –energised, when was used as base for microbial culture, exhibited superior qualities compared to water from the same source that was not energized. The microbial multiplication was higher, they lasted longer too. This was not  just for one microbe but almost all the growth promoting ones. Samples of the water were collected before and after the vortex charging . They did not show any change in chemical composition. These were the anyasis results on no fewer than 30 trials done in one of best lab-research facility in South India. Are you saying that these readings and analysis are false?[/font]

[font=courier]Rain water in its natural state is good, an please don’t forget the ‘acid’ part in acid rain is the contribution from artificial interferences of man.[/font]

[font=courier]If you rate merit/effectiveness based only norms, then applying the same
yardstick how would you rate hydroponics that’s also not the norm?[/font]

[font=courier]Do you dispute this 50% stronger concrete also?

It is not something I assumed, or projected to be achieved. It is the result of tests conducted by Lafarge Concrete Company, Canada, while trying to
make the strongest possible concrete for sealing highly toxic waste.[/font]

[font=courier]Please explain why[/font]

[font=courier]Your lines are contradictory. On one end you say ‘Soil grown crops giving the highest
quality is false’. Then you claim soil grown crops have set the standards for comparison.[/font]

[font=courier]I am amused at how you have arrived at the above numbers[/font]

[quote] If you are looking at feeding 8 billion people then naturally Organic is impossible and will never ever make it.
[/quote]

[font=courier]In your estimation, if a nation turns to Organic or natural farming, what percentage of the population will die of starvation, 50% or 25%?[/font]

[quote]Hydroponics just makes sure that agriculture as a business is viable because it is the most resource efficient and controlled way of agriculture while organic is most inefficient and least controlled way of doing it,
[/quote]

[font=courier]Really?

You mention labour as one the scarce, difficult to get factor of agricultural production.

There is another factor involved that is even scarcer and dearer, it is energy.

Till this point, productivity in quantity was the sole criteria based on which efficiency of agriculture was measured. This was because energy costs weren’t high or were subsidized. Now with the energy costs having gone up and energy availability having gone down ,the energy equation assumes greater importance.

This is simply the no: units of energy spent (invested) and the no: units of energy got in return (returned).

The energy equations as deduced by the industry is as follows

Natural farming – For 1 calorie of energy invested you get back 2 calories.

Chemical Farming – For 2 calories of energy spent you get back 1 calorie of energy.

For Hydroponics the energy spent must be considerably higher than the energy returned.

With the earth depleting in fossil fuels and running short of energy ideas, how long can we afford to waste energy?  With the planet staring at the peak-oil crisis, and still not having alternate-energy sources to depend on, it sounds anything but resourceful and efficient.

regards,
cowherd[/font]