Sunday, December 29, 2013

Organisation Profile : Mango Nurseries

In the last couple of years, we have bought over 10,000 mango saplings from a couple of nurseries in Tamil Nadu. Although there are a lot of nurseries but only a handful have been in the business for generations. Like most businesses, new clients are established by word of mouth. When we were looking for suppliers, we were recommended a few well established, big nurseries in Salem and Dindigul.

If you think of a renowned nursery in Salem that has been in the business for over 3 generation, only one supplier would really fit the bill. We are not going to name the nursery. Unfortunately, our experience was not as stellar as their market reputation seems to be. In 2011, we were in the midst of developing our farm. After placing the order (and advance) with this nursery, we had to push out the pick up date by two weeks. We were repeatedly assured that our saplings were available and may be picked up at our convenience. However, at the time of pick up we were informed of a sudden storm / heavy monsoon which had damaged the saplings. Since our inception in 2010, we cannot recall any heavy or damaging monsoon activity and we called his bluff. Later we heard anecdotes that our saplings were sold to another client, possibly who was willing to pay more and pick it up right away. We did not do business with them again.


The second nursery we procured Mango saplings from is a few kilometers from Batlagundu in Dindigul district. We have been happy with the quality although we saw greater mortality in the bigger plants compared to the smaller ones. Based on subsequent discussions, we concluded that seed quality is key to a sapling's ability to endure field transplantation trauma. If possible, one should always try to check robustness of seed stock being used by the nursery. The proprietor of this nursery is easy to get along and so far has kept his word with quality and timely delivery. While the rates may tend to be pretty fixed and on the higher side, the travel distance was much shorter for us. Overall, we would recommend them.

Those of you who have procured saplings from other nurseries, feel free to share your feedback to benefit others. For specific questions on the above commentary, feel free to contact us directly.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Agriculture Innovators and Disruptive Technology

Over the past year, we came across several agriculture innovations and related start ups. Most of these services are localized to their area of origin while others are truly ground breaking and still in beta mode. Looking at the world vegetation and water risk charts below, it is not surprising that most of these innovations come from location with water deficit. Along the same lines, it is to be expected that most research is focusing on revitalizing barren landscapes and developing creative irrigation methods. 

Worldwide vegetation cover
 Global water deficient area

Despite varying degree of product maturity, we felt all of these were interesting and full of promise. Below we share a couple of such companies which our community may find interesting or even inspiring. Power to the pioneers!

Just Awesome

International Fertilizer Development Center  (www.ifdc.org)
Fertlizer Deep Placement (FDP) technology is a simple technology spreading very rapidly in Bangladesh and is being up scaled up in other Asian countries for production of rice and other crops. They claim the results to date to be excellent. In Bangladesh about 2.8 million ha involving more than 4 million farmers is under FDP technology. With flood irrigation, farmers are using 35% less urea fertilizer and yet getting 15-18% increase in yield.

Aquanue (www.aquanue.com)
Aquanue’s SICRA system is a proven aquaculture technology that has been developed over the past 40 years. The aquaculture system can grow high-value groupers (and other species) in half the time taken in sea cage systems, with one-tenth the mortality. The business is modular, scalable, organic, and has a low environmental footprint.


Really Cool..

iCow (www.icow.co.ke)
iCow is a mobile phone based agricultural platform aimed to increase small scale farmer productivity at the same time reducing risks. This platform sports the worlds first mobile cow calendar monitoring the gestation cycle of the cow. Farmers claim to increase milk yields by up to 3 liters per animal after using iCow for 7 months. With a name like 'iCow', our bovine friends are feeling the Steve Jobs affect as well..

XA Warehouse Farming (www.verticalfarms.com.au)
This is an automated growing system that is scalable to meet demand with low labor, power and water inputs, and high crop yields. The focus is on urban farming, often in warehouse location, with the intent of designing high yielding systems for rapid ROI.


Love to try it!

Coolplanet (www.coolplanet.com)
Poised to revolutionize the energy and agricultural industries with its clean energy system, Cool Planet has developed a patented process that converts non-food biomass into gasoline. The benefits? Less dependence on importing oil, improvements to agriculture and impacting climate change. The clean, renewable fuel can be distributed and used in today’s vehicles with no change to existing infrastructure.

BioLumic (www.biolumic.com)
Their claim is an innovative new UV lighting technology that provides the ability to control plant size, growth and increase stress tolerance. Though limited to Greenhouse applications and indoor cultivation, their product could be god-send for greenhouse operators in significantly increasing yeild and reducing time-to-market.

On a closing note, some may notice that none of the above are Indian organizations. However, this does not mean that grass-root innovation does not occur all over India - the fact is probably quite the contrary. Unfortunately, access to such information is not always easy. Our readers should feel free to use this forum and can take the initiative to bring those to light for greater collaboration and information sharing with our community.

Credits : Maps of the world

Monday, December 9, 2013

Fodder Security : Maize Cultivation

At Savera Farms, we currently produce a large part of our fresh fodder needs for our goat operations. However, there are additional ingredients in the goat feed which are critical as well. In general, goats require energy, protein, vitamins, minerals, fiber (bulk) and water. In our case, of meat goats, calorie intake is an important and usually the most limiting nutrient. For meat production, goats have to be able to gain lean fat. Similarly, any deficiencies, excesses and imbalances of vitamins and minerals can limit animal growth, lead to health problems and result in wasteful feeding expenses.

Multiple factors affect nutritional requirements of goats: maintenance, growth, pregnancy, lactation, fiber production, activity and environment. As a general rule of thumb, goats consume at least 3% of their body weight in dry matter feed. The exact percentage varies according to the size (weight) of the goat, with younger animals needing a higher percentage intake during the growth phase. Environmental conditions also affect maintenance requirements. During cooler (or wet) months, we noticed that goats require more feed to maintain body heat. The added stresses of pregnancy, lactation and growth further increase nutrient requirements as well.

Keeping in mind our growing demand for quality goat feed, we planted a few acres of Maize in hopes of reducing per unit feeding cost. The crop has been in the ground for a few weeks and has started to show signs of life. Gap filling was performed after 15 days of initial sowing. Estimated germination rate is about 80% based on the seed dispersal method used. Given we have no prior experience with Maize, we are eager to see how this crop performs.


We are drip irrigating the crop twice a week for about 45 min. To further minimize cultivation cost, we are not using any fertilizers. Flyash was used in small quantities during soil preparation and it seems that it was a wise choice.


We expect our goat feed demands to continue rising as our initial herd has now stabilized and we plan to continue growing it in size. Current suppliers of goat feed or ingredients like Maize (powder form) can reach out if interested in working with us. Partnering with experienced producers allows us to focus on our core activities and we can outsource other tasks for additional job / employment opportunities in an already stressed industry.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Harvesting Moringa Leaves

Earlier this year, during the summer months, Savera Farms started working on Moringa leaf production. Once our saplings were about 45 days old, we transplanted them in the fields around first week of September. Some of you may recall, we setup a sprinkler system for Moringa. After initial signs of promise, we realized the sprinklers were not very effective due to strong wind patterns which would disperse the water in non-target areas and lead to wastage. Fast forward several more weeks after installing drip irrigation we witnessed a healthy growth spurt. With the arrival of winter monsoons, our Moringa plants started to look supple and distinctly healthier. The photo below does not do justice since we were several meters away due to an irrigation ditch in between.


Since the monsoons stuck around for a few weeks, it made for a challenging task to harvest and process the leaves. Though we are well into drying and packaging our initial batch, we are still trying to optimize our drying and processing practices. With Moringa leaves, the goal is to quickly dry the harvest, preserve the nutrients and introduce minimum contaminants. In India, most Moringa leaves are collected from existing trees or plantations which were not planned for high volume production. In contrast, we decided to proceed with intense density cultivation, similar to a tea leaf plantation. When the plants were around 4 feet tall, we started to harvest. The expectation is to be able to harvest every 45 days going forward. In an effort to optimize our Moringa for higher leaf yield, we started pruning the trees to about 3 feet level. The rationale behind this was to maximize foliage at lower heights for easy harvest. In an phased manner, we will convert the trees into Moringa 'shrubs' to increase leaf production.


After pruning, the bright green leaves were placed on a drying hammock for air drying. Direct sunlight was avoided under the 75% shade net. After 2 days of air drying, the leaves were crisp and easy to crush. After another day of drying, the leaves were brittle at which time they are expected to contain less that 10% moisture. During the drying process, the leaves turn to a darker shade of green. We expect to conclude packaging our first batch in the coming days and for the next batch we will begin investigating automated or mechanized dehydrators. They should offer a more efficient and controlled drying environment.

Our journey with Moringa leaves has just begun, more to come so stay tuned!