Keep The Honeymoon Going!

As i complete my first year of my second marriage, (my marriage to farming, if you still don’t get it!), I can feel that the honeymoon is over.  :-/

I loved the romance, the courtship, and the wedding. Now for the hard part, accept the new realities, adjust and adapt. Sometimes, the reality hits you so hard that you start having doubts, “What the hell was i thinking?”. Do i stop and go back? Quit?

I will answer this after i write down what i have learned in the past one year. Every challenge was an opportunity. Every problem had a solution.

Remote Management

I live in Chandigarh, and farm 173KM away! Ideally, i would like to live ON THE FARM! To achieve this, i either bring farm near to Chandigarh (extremely costly) or, bring my family to Mustfabad (extremely unlikely) or, leave my family (extremely unthinkable).

Hack

Must have a reliable person ON THE GROUND, regular visits to the farm (i do once every 8-10 days) and status phone calls every 2nd day. I have a full time employee on a monthly salary. I have trained him in the basics of Organic Farming. I have a daily routine for him to follow. Remember, you will also have to take care of accommodation and food for this person. A good person will cost you Rs.10,000 a month + wheat and rice ration.

Resources / Labor 

Once you have your full time employee, your small labor requirements will be met. E.g., spray, interculture, irrigation, security etc. You will face challenge when the job at hand is specialized, e.g. line sowing, mulching, manual harvesting / thrashing etc. The existing labor works on an age old model of ‘Chemical farming’. I have pulled my hair out in frustration trying to explain to them what i want and how i want it done!

How to cut it?

Engage a small team of people, pay them a little extra and PAY THEM IMMEDIATELY after the job is done. They will stick to you and will start calling you for work! They will become your go-team whenever you need extra hands. No one in my village pay the labor right after the job is done, they are paid 1-2 weeks later. I pay them as soon as they finish the job.

Invest in machinery! You will be surprised with the type of solutions available in the market for doing everything under the sun. Labor will always add to your cost. A godi to take out ‘weeds’ in 1 acre of rice field will cost you upward of Rs.12,000!

Time To Market

When i took my green pea crop to the market, they were selling at Rs2 / Kg. I gave away sacks full of peas to everyone in the village for free and tilled the remaining crop into the soil. I was 1 month late to the market. (This was in regular mandi, as i was still in my first year of Organic and was not selling at specialized farmers’ markets)

Fix it

You can pretty much calculate the exact week when your produce will be ready to market! It only require little planning to prepare and sow on time! If you are late, leave the patch empty. Sow cover crop for green manuring. Do not give in to the village wisdom of “पैली खाली नहीं छोड़नी”

Storage

30Kg of my Moong harvest went to pests and had to be thrown away! I had it in a plastic sack on the floor. Bad decision. Rainy season is bad for stored harvest. I learnt it the hard way.

Solution 

Build a covered area next to the field. Make a storage room in a corner. Use this area to dry your produce and store it. Never keep the sacks on the floor, make wooden shelves to store. Use Neem leaves and other organic methods to keep pests away. Most of the grains need to be throughly dried before storage.

Where is the Mandi?

Growing is easy, give me a patch of land, i can grow crops & vegetable. Even if i neglect my fields, i will still get a harvest! SELLING your produce is a challenge for many of us. Costing is an unknown territory for many of us. 99% of the farmers are not doing organic farming because they want to ‘give back to mother nature’ or, ‘help protect the environment’ or, ‘Do sustainable farming’. The inconvenient truth is that, most of the farmers are in this because it was SUPPOSED to make economic sense for them! Organic equals more money for the same produce. Well, yes and no. I have known many reputed farmers pricing their produce at 200% margins. There is no justification for this. Their costing model (if there is one) is flawed. They are taking unfair advantage of the ‘Organic’ label and movement. Others, do not know how to put a price on their produce. They simply check the market price and mark it up by 20-30%.

But, the fact remains that, the market for naturally grown food is unregulated and unorganized in the state of Punjab. Organic Mandis are mostly run by NGOs, and other small group of like minded people. These are small in number, do not happen everyday, have lose control over farmers and have their own standards of what is organic and what is not.

Then where do i sell?

  1. Get connected with local chapters of organic movement. Almost every city has one
  2. Network with KVM and other such organizations / NGOs
  3. Know how to cost and price your produce (very important)
  4. If possible, spare an acre of land to grow and sell to your ‘Dana Mandi’ . This ensures cashflow.
  5. Know what to grow! try niche crops / vegetable. Ask around, see that consumers are looking for. Grow exotic variety of the same cultivar. When all others bring hybrid, your desi or exotic variety will command a higher price.
  6. If you do not have access to a near-by organic mandi, do not grow perishables. Do grains / pulses which can be packed and stored.
  7. Try to do value addition. E.g. sell atta or dalia, not wheat.
  8. Eventually, make enough contacts to sell direct! 🙂 Farm to home.

Honeymoon is all about the excitement of doing something new, doing something for the first time.  What if we keep finding new stuff to do? new and exciting ways to grow food? Keep challenging the ‘default’. Focus on your newly found knowledge, keep your small achievements in front of you. Keep moving…

Keep the honeymoon going. ❤ 

 

 

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