Every day, Sudhanshu Kumar drives down to his farm, parks his bike in the shed, and sits in a control room built on the premises. He makes himself comfortable, and picks a movie to watch for the day. Once he’s made his choice, he presses a button beside a panel on his chair, which begins a process of irrigation and fertilisation on his fruit orchards, while he settles to watch the film. By the time the movie is complete, irrigation on his 35 acres of orchards is complete. Sudhanshu gathers his belongings, switches off the system, and heads home.
With minimum monitoring and no worries regarding a workforce, Sudhanshu, a farmer from Samastipur, Bihar, earns lakhs through farming by using technology, and then selling quality produce. On his 60-acre farm, he has grown 28,000 trees of mango, banana, guava, Jamun, lychee, Brazilian sweet lime, and dragon fruit, among others, fetching him a revenue worth Rs 80 lakh a year.
Sudhanshu has been practising farming since 1990, and has always emphasised on the use of scientific techniques to increase yield and economic benefit.
He says it all started after he turned down a job offer of an assistant manager at the Tata Tea Gardens in Munnar, Kerala, and returned home to pursue farming. “My grandfather and father were farmers, and I wanted to continue the tradition. But my father wanted me to pursue civil services. After much urging from my side, he reluctantly allowed me to try farming on a neglected 5-acre land,” adds the 58-year-old.
The land was a way for Sudhanshu’s father to test him, and see if he could really care for an area that had more wild plants than actual trees. “I took advice on the technology and methods I could adopt to rejuvenate the farm from scientists at Dr Rajendra Prasad Central Agricultural University in Pusa. After a year of hard work and spending Rs 25,000, I earned Rs 1.35 lakh. It was a big achievement, as the particular area had never earned us more than Rs 15,000,” he says.
The first purchase Sudhanshu made with this income was a tractor-mounted sprayer that cost Rs 40,000. From here, his journey towards automation and implementing technology in farming began. Today, the same five acres reap Rs 13 lakh a year.
At present, Sudhanshu has 200 acres of farmland, out of which 60 acres operate on micro-irrigation, and 35 acres of land is fully automated. Crops including corn, wheat and lentils are grown on the remaining land. “The technology and farming equipment helped me grow better quality and quantity of crops. Both have been consistent over the years, and are of utmost importance for a farmer,” he says, adding that he chose to concentrate more on growing fruits, and they earned him three times more income than traditional crops.
Explaining the technology he adopted, the third-generation farmer says that the control room serves as a junction to irrigate and monitor farm activities. “The orchards have drip irrigation and micro-sprinklers. The tanks in the control room supply fertilisers and pesticides through the drip. The input given from the control room decides when to irrigate the plants, and the controller can choose the quantity of fertiliser and other additives to be mixed. For example, I provide 7 grams of fertilisers every fourth day. The system programme functions in such fashion,” he says.
Sudhanshu explains that the micro-sprinklers help create a microclimate in the orchards. “Lychee requires a certain amount of humidity and temperature to be maintained around it. The micro-sprinklers help achieve that,” he adds.
The farm is connected with a wireless broadband internet network, which allows the irrigation system to be controlled from anywhere across the world via a smartphone or laptop. The CCTV cameras help monitor the activities and health of the trees.
Building a marketing network
“However, growing fruits is a tricky business, as they are highly perishable and are produced in large quantities. Hence, harvesting and selling them fresh in the market requires building a strong network of buyers,” he adds.
Sudhanshu says that as productivity increased, he began tying up with potential buyers across India and ensured that fruits are delivered within 24 hours of the harvest. “In 2012, I bagged a contract with an Allahabad-based canning company that buys lychee. The mangoes have a steady local market, and I tied up with Keventers to sell premium bananas. I also sell my produce to Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Delhi and Dubai,” he adds. He also started the company Orchards of Nayanagar to accept orders online.
He says the market linkages have helped him get more customers over time. “However, there is a shortage of cold chain facilities that have not been developed or supported by the government. The infrastructure demands huge costs, and if the government facilitates, it will help farmers store, process and earn good returns,” Sudhanshu says.
His achievements were recognised and appreciated at various levels. He was conferred the Jagjivan Ram Abhinav Kisan Puruskar, an innovative farmer award in 2010, Best Mango Grower Award from Society for Development of Subtropical Horticulture, Role Model Award from The International Consortium of Contemporary Biologist & The Board of Trustees of Madhawi-Shyam Educational Trust (ICCD-MSET) in 2011 and Mahindra Samriddhi India Agri Awards in 2014.
He is also part of various farmer bodies at both national and international levels.
‘The key is quantity and quality’
Sudhanshu believes that every farmer should practice horticulture. “At least 1/3rd of the land should be dedicated to horticulture, which helps boost income. Farmers should not shy away from seeking subsidies from the government and using technology for agriculture,” he says.
“Different state governments provide various subsidies on polyhouse, agriculture equipment, fertiliser and others. It acts as a springboard to progress in the field. That is how I progressed,” he adds.
Sudhanshu, also a village head, says some farmers have taken inspiration from him and have adopted drip irrigation techniques. “Sugarcane is widely grown in the region, and it is water-intensive at the same time. A few farmers have started using drip techniques to reduce water costs. They are also planning to convert some areas into a horticulture space,” he adds.
He says he plans to work with corporate companies to sell his fruit produce in bulk and seek more returns. “I have delivered quality and quantity consistently for years. It is definitely what the corporates look for,” he adds.
Summarising his success, Sudhanshu says, “My grandfather owned 2,700 acres of land at one point, and around 200 acres remain under my ownership today. Yet, I’m able to grow four times more produce. This has only been possible with the use of technology and science.”
Edited by Divya Sethu