Monday, October 28, 2013

Fodder Cultivation - Bajra & Maize

This year the retreating monsoons commenced rather late at Savera Farms. Significant rains came pouring in only around mid October. When the monsoons finally set in, we grabbed the opportunity to augment our fodder acreage using traditional rain fed method. Occasionally our fodder mix includes Bajra and Maize and we needed to increase the supply. This is our first attempt into land crops like these so we are anxious to see how these fare at Savera Farms. We were told to expect the first harvest in about 90- 100 days, sometime in February 2014.

We are already feeding our goats CO4, Agathi, Subabul in addition to the concentrate mix. A treat of Bajra and Maize fodder usually gets them pretty excited. While we chose rain fed irrigation for most of the acreages, we planned for drip irrigation as a back up as well. Rain fed acres were broadcasted with seeds after initial soil prep. Since these crops are annual harvests, namely during monsoons, our drip fed areas should be able to secure uninterrupted production during lean monsoon months.

There are several fodder crops available and our currently choice of Bajra and Maize was driven by season, resource requirement and net cost of production.We were advised line spacing of 15 cm by 60 cm though there were various options discussed. Minimal investment was made on land preparation but keeping an eye of self-sustainability, soil enhancement using goat manure was done. For those interested in learning more, here is a brief article on goat manure. A couple of rounds of disc plough and 5 fingers seems to be sufficient prior to direct seeding. With recent showers, sprouting was seen in about 4-5 days as seen here. This section includes drip feed acres will be supplement with urea. The expectation is to harvest in excess of 18-20 tonnes per acre due to controlled irrigation and fertigation.

Those with interest in cultivation and production capabilities of Bajra and Maize, please get in touch with us. We would like to consider long term procurement contracts. Ideal producers would be within 200-250km radius from Sivagangai with some cultivation infrastructure and experience.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Central Food Technological Research Institute (CFTRI), Mysore

A few weeks ago, we visited Central Food Technological Research Institute (CFTRI), Mysore to attend a course on Post Harvesting techniques of Fruits and Vegetables. CFTRI campus is in the heart of Mysore town and easily accessible. The building is elegant and was donated by the King of Mysore back in the days. Despite the urban setting, the campus is lush, green and very well kept.

Our course focused on several aspects of post harvest processes and techniques ranging from diseases & control measures, maturity standards, treatments for enhancing or reducing ripening, technologies related to Controlled Atmosphere (CA) and Modified Atmospheric Packaging (MAP). Discussions included Pesticide Residue analysis, Nutraceticals, Packaging design & performance evaluation, waste utilization of fruits, Irraditation technologies and HACCP standards for export purposes. The list of covered topics was comprehensive and provided a good overview over a large spectrum of activities. However after the topic was introduced, at times we were left yearning for more details and additional / contextual insights. Most lectures were theoretical in nature while there were a couple of  practical demos as well. For hands-on operators like us, a few more demos would have been very beneficial. We also felt at times professors had contrasting opinions on progressive technologies like MAP and its viability on fruits, especially Mango. It was a challenge to extract commercially pliable information from them as a lot of this data is still in research phase but the staff was usually tolerant of our relentless quest for practical details!

On a lighter note, I thought I was done with chemical equations for life after my first year engineering course. However, if you really want to understand the genesis of fruit spoilage, the equations/chemical phenomena will come back to haunt you. For me, it was a pleasant surprise to see some of the familiar equations again. Overall, the course provides a good baseline and understanding of fruit spoilage process and what should be done to curb the wastage. Any plans to introduce additional market driven, field tested and commercially applicable facets to this course will make it more attractive to existing operations. For additional details, contact CFTRI, Mysore.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Reader Poll : Direct to Consumer Model

Over the last couple of months, we have been studying multiple go-to-market approaches for some of our products. Marketing in an immature retail supply chain is never easy and India's business culture adds a few more twists to the equation. The winds of change are here though, the consumer is more savvy and discerning. To be successful, retailers will have to step up their game. Based on our limited survey in Chennai, the primary marketing challenges include :
  1. Established supermarket chains like Food World and Nilgiris usually do not have independent producer friendly policies and transaction policies.
    • Generally speaking, their retail model is geared towards established and heavily advertised brands. 
    • Fees for promotional displays or activities can be prohibitive.
  2. Producer to mandi to market supply chain remains strong and vicious. 
    • The ubiquitous middleman continues to dilute operational efficiencies and sap profits.
    • Current government programs to alleviate middleman malaise are generally limited in scope and impact.
  3. End consumers are becoming more aware of their food content and source.
    • Interest is organics in still small but slowly growing.
    • Small, niche gourmet retailers are tasting success in urban settings.
Overall there is opportunity on multiple fronts each with aggressive growth projections  - retailing, packed supply chain, cold chain, packaging, production, etc. During our search we came across several start-ups in the food retailing space. Packaging innovation and niche food segments seems to be current drivers. We would like to poll the readers to better understand how valuable are the following purchase experiences for packed fruits (Mango, Sapota, Apples, etc) and packed meats (Fresh Chicken and Mutton).

- Competitive pricing with direct sales from producer.
- Direct shipment to your location in protective packaging.
- Convenient, clean, resealable storage cases.
- Repeat customer and volume incentives.
- Easy ordering options over phone, email or online.
- No hassle returns or exchanges.
- Published production location, process and information.

Please take a few moments to rate the importance of each factor in your potential purchase decision. Rate between 1 - 3, with 3 being most important. Looking forward to hearing back..

Monday, October 7, 2013

At ~4% of all entrepreneurs, Indians are at #2!!

It was a little moment of pride when my alma-mater, Duke University, published a profile on the current breed of entrepreneurs. Savvy technocrats in Silicon Valley have long established their mark in the US. That profile is now changing with Indian origin professionals being recognized for innovative offerings in Medical, Logistics, Telecom and Retail industries. As a nation (and being a perennial optimist), I feel we have many attributes in our favor - Education, Youth, Ambition. We now have to take the constraints, which are just as many, into stride and strive to overcome.

This info-graphic limits the scope to US start-ups and we are the largest non-native demographic of entrepreneurs. I can only try to imagine our collective impact and influence in nations like UK, South Africa, Germany, Australia. Based on the survey taken for this poll, it was not as urprising that people became entrepreneurs for building wealth (who doesn't!) but that just as many people found their motivation in not wanting to work for someone and have a strong desire to own a company. It is clear that this polling debunked some of the common myths that many of us unjustly burden ourselves with. Over 36% of the people came from lower middle class so limited start-up budget is not the biggest barrier to entry. Vast majority of the people were married and most of them had at least 1 child, so while family responsibilities are important, that is definitely not the reason to stall your idea.

We all need a way to shake away the self-doubts and find our way to the greater potential that we can be. Carpe diem friends! Toasting to everyone's success..