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Harbir Singh’s Journey as a Farmer: from a Novice to an Expert

Amit Bhatt
Amit Bhatt
Harbir Singh at his farm

Harbir Singh of Shahabad Markanda Tehsil in Kurukshetra district narrates his journey in farming to us. He describes himself as a small landholder farmer active in farming since 1995. He is a Post Graduate and has worked on beekeeping, which is a side business.  

He has a garden where he has the beekeeping boxes. He learnt about beekeeping from some professional Himachal beekeepers who came to visit his area. They provided useful information and education and he requested for 6 boxes when they left. From these boxes, he was able to produce enough honey for domestic consumption. Slowly his business in beekeeping grew and at a time he had 70 beekeeping boxes.

He kept working on his main business of agriculture which he worked with traditional methods passed to him through previous generations and with knowledge from helpful neighbors. He persisted with farming for next 3 years but he found the whole business hopeless. He farmed Til (sesame) on a small scale as he was not able to make much profit. Only in beekeeping was he able to achieve anything.

Sowing seeds in the prepared bed

He is a member of International Bee Research Association, UK and visited them for a meeting in 2004. He had to reduce his workload especially in beekeeping due to family circumstances. His mother was injured in an accident and he spent most of the time staying close to his parents trying to assist them and reduced his beekeeping work as it required touring. It was a touring job as he had boxes in Hissar and Rajasthan in the mustard fields, as mustard is not grown locally. He travelled to sunflower fields in other seasons.  In off-season he used to grow honey in Barley or Cotton fields for which he again had to travel to Hissar or Rajasthan. Hence he had to quit beekeeping and started to focus on farming as it did not require much travelling. 

He had grown vegetables in his farm since he took up farming in 1995. He even grew green chilies in his farm. They used to buy seedlings for their chilly plants from local gardens. However he was not able to sell them at the correct rate due to low demand for the variety that he was selling. Sometimes the crops simply failed. 

Harbir Singh with workers

He then tells us how he got interested in seedlings. On the Jalandhar to Pathanktok road there is a Kala bakra village where there is a plant spread over 30-35 acres. This plant provides seedlings for a number of items. One day he went in and requested to buy chilly seedlings, however he was asked if he had made bookings beforehand, without which they refused to provide seedlings. He requested them to at least show their production unit, however he was denied an entrance. He was told that no buyers or farmers are allowed inside. He left dejected and went to meet his Canada  returned cousin nearby who knew the Sarpanch who made arrangements for what he had requested. He was invited to buy the seedlings and take a tour of the nursery. Having selected his seedlings he went to see the operations of the plant. He saw the workers and when he questioned them he was asked to talk to their superiors and got no help in terms of information which may have helped him farm better. He took these seedlings and planted in his farm. Once the chilies had grown he took them for sale, however he again fared poorly as this variety was not in demand. He then decided to setup a nursery himself to grow seedlings that he could use and sell.  

For this purpose, he went to the Delhi mandi and asked the traders about the best segments, the most sold and requested for. In 2005, he started his nursery which he had not advertised, hence in initial years very few people knew who we were and what are our products. Therefore, we suffered losses in the first year. Instead of getting disappointed, they doubled the size of their nursery as people were beginning to identify them as major provider of seedlings. In the second year after doing all calculations, he found that he had made profit of Rupees 3,500. He was disappointed once again as he was not able to make huge profits that he was expecting. So, he decided to modernize his farm and change his farming system. He bought sprinklers, built polyhouses, added low tunnels and he started to make reasonable profit. But he never was satisfied and refined his system again and again with new technologies, so as to improve the quality of his products and improve their productivity. They have never looked back since. We have learnt some new techniques from others while learning with our experiences as well. In the fourth year he has developed a "medium" for growing  seedlings and his work with this "medium" has fetched him a number of awards like N.G. Ranga National award in 2017, nursery ratan, kisan ratan and countless district level awards. Over this "medium" the seeds germinate into seedlings.  

He said anyone interested in creating nurseries for growing seedlings should be fully prepared and must follow the system. If you are not able to achieve desired results you can contact him for guidance and knowledge. We deliver training to interested persons, they may stay here for 2, 4, 6, 10 days or as long as they want to, till they complete their training. 

He now describes the "medium" that has made him popular. It consists of three sections. One has ash with burnt out rice skins. Second is the river belt sand which they bring from the Markanda river. This sand has some elements of soil and is very fertile. Third element is FYM (farmyard manure) which is processed from the dung of animals in his dairy. Firstly the dung is put in "Gobar Gas Plant". Then the residue  is  dried and crushed with Rotavator. Then it is filtered so that it becomes fine and our FYM is ready. These three combine to form our "medium". The proportion or ratio of the "medium" that is used  varies according to seasons and the crop that you are farming. The amount of "medium" required for tomatoes or chilies or capsicums will vary. 

To farm with "medium" firstly they prepare the bed. At one time, they are able to prepare 46 beds. These beds are 1 meter wide and 60 meters in length. Over these beds a layer of 2.5 to 3 inches is created. Over this layer 10 lines are made over the 60 meters length, in which the seed sowing is done. For different items the depth of the line and where the seed are sown varies. The seeds of tomatoes, chilies and cauliflower grow at 3 inches while onions are sown at 1.5 inch of the lines. After the seed is sown these lines are closed with the "medium".

Now the sprinklers come to work. These micro sprinklers are placed at formation of 4m x 4m. We water the plants for 2 hours to 2 hours and 30 minutes. These sprinklers are very fine and  these discharge 30 liters of water per hour and 250 of these are placed over an acre. After this irrigation activity the beds are covered with plastic or polythene sheets so as to keep the moisture within the beds so as to lessen the need for irrigation. Tomatoes germinate in 4-5 days while chilies germinate in 9-11 days. After the germination the sheets are removed and low tunnels are applied over the beds. It's not advised to use these polythene sheets with low tunnels as it causes humidity and heat makes the plant grow in height but the stem is very week. So PPNW (Polypropylene Non Woven) sheets are used, and these are 25 GSM. Initially they bought these sheets from a specialist firm and now even Reliance is manufacturing and selling these. Anyone interested in this fabric can approach me and I will give him the contacts from where they can purchase these, he said. These sheets are effective for two years. These don't allow humidity and allow air to come in and filtered water gets to the plant. The combination of the "medium" and PPNW sheets have gone a long way in improving the quality and productivity of the crops. The plants don't have too big a stem and the veggies on them grow well.

Even though he had all the raw materials for a successful farm, initially he wasn't sure about the ratio or the proportions to use these in. This is something he has learnt from practice and experience. He wasn't sure about how much "medium" to use for what product but now he does. They have now documented the right proportions for each crop. The seedlings can also be plucked easily  and  anyone interested in developing nurseries can contact him for guidance. He said he could give all the information in this video but there are too many details. He said you will have to change  the quantity of "medium"  for some products depending on the heat conditions or you may have losses. Another benefit of the "medium", which he himself discovered much later, was that plants once germinated did not require any irrigation for next 2-3 months. The reason for this is the peeled  skin of rice and the river sand which absorb the moisture at night which dries out only after one hour of daylight. This was way beyond their expectations. When they started using "medium" they hoped that it will keep the soil dry, and germination will be smooth. However with additional benefit of pulling the seedlings out easily, it doesn't allow for much mosquitoes on the plants due to ash content. The three components of this "medium" - ash, river sand and the treated manure are completely sterilized. 

This mixture gives the benefit that FYM powers the seedlings, all our seedlings are completely organic. Trichoderma, pseudomonas and ajenjo are applied and used in nursery regularly. The manure that comes out of the "gobar gas" plant is not allowed to dry and has moisture at all times. This manure on coming out of the plant is treated with Trichoderma and pseudomonas which multiply inside the manure. They even use Trichoderma, pseudomonas in liquid form. The water for irrigation of these plants comes from a tube-well and these are added in a drum of 250 liters which is operated through the tube-well and applied to the plants through sprinklers. They do not use any other risky elements.

They place their sheets over a very fine wire structure. Usually it gets affected by rusting which may result in wear and tear of the sheets, however they now use wires made out of fiber which are damage resistant. This has increased the lifespan of their sheets. He said they always experiment with any new relevant techniques or technologies, which may help in his nursery work. They initially had Jain irrigation system, which used to discharge excessive water, but they now use Netafim Irrigation system. Netafim keeps them up to date with their upgrades and innovations for instance if they have a new type of nozzle you will be informed about it. 

Now he moves on to bed preparation. He said he has devoted an acre to tomatoes and another acre to chilies and capsicum. The seed companies often come to their farm and give the 2 grams or 5 grams of seeds as samples claiming that these are virus resistant or have any other improvements. They plant the varieties they are already using as well as these new varieties, initially for testing. They don't compare the prices they get for their produce but observe the colour, shape and weight of the product. In the mandi tomatoes of 90-120 grams are regarded as high quality tomatoes. Sometimes differently shaped tomatoes are not bought at the right prices, so before harvesting they observe their crops to see how long they will last after harvesting i.e. they don't go waste before being bought and consumed by the buyers.

For tomatoes, they record the weight of first and consecutive harvests, weight before transportation and weight at the mandi. Secondly they see how many products are in a bunch, how many are over and under. He said he always tests new varieties for an year and only after continuous good results are these products brought to the market. 

Same process is followed for chilies. Different type of chilies are grown in different states like Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan and different buyers look for different types of chilies. Some want dark green, while others want light green chilies. In one acre he plants 60-65 varieties including parrot green, and again they observe the weights of first harvest and consecutive harvests. For chilies their main focus is on the Delhi market and in last 3-4 years exporters have shown interest in their produce. They request for seedlings of a particular segment, which they are more than willing to grow. The main focus for these exporters is on Punjab and not on Haryana. He has introduced these exporters to a number of farmers in Haryana and the rates are decided beforehand. Farmers feel safe and confident that on growth of their products they will get a guaranteed income. 

He now moves on to processing. He said he told tomato growers to not to depend too much on their mandis and approach the food processing companies who always provide a fixed rate. Farmers again feel on the safer side in terms of their income and for last few years these farmers are more confident in their farming.

Next, he talked about his Aeroponic farm plan where he will grow his products in air. Currently they are planning on potato seeds in their Aeroponic lab, work on which is under progress. He works with tissue culture on strawberries which are in great demand in Punjab and Haryana. He is in talk with companies in US for mother plants for strawberries. He said as a landowner working on 25-26 acres of land, it is his responsibility to ensure that his products  are of good quality, hence he tests everything before launching it in market. If you grow something and  nobody is willing to buy it, the loss can be disheartening. 

He repeats that anyone interested in seedlings can contact him. He has MoU with Universities, which from time to time invite him to deliver lectures on the above listed topics. Students are often sent to his farm for a day to see the farm activities first hand. He also produces vegetables on vines. They vines planted with "medium" germinate quicker than with normal farming. These plants are healthy as the FYM propels them from beneath. Normally you need to supplement these vines plants with nutrients which was not required with their farming methods. 

There was a drawback with the seedlings that often there was too much moisture when pulling out the seedlings, however when transporting these to other states the mud dried out. Hence they use coco-peat for their plants and as always about 25 percent of it has "medium" in it. Hence they are easily able to transport their seedlings to customers as far as UP and Bihar.

He finally said he has explained everything that he wanted to share with his fellow farmers. He said information on agriculture is a deep sea and the more you swim the better you will become as a farmer. You must have good knowledge and some technique before getting into farming business, which can earn profits for you. He said his main season is from October to April, anyone curious about the business can come to his farms in these seven months to see what they do, how they do and ask questions. He boasts that he can train you in a day. He shared his contact number which is 9813159427. He said for any queries regarding the above listed topics please feel free to call him. If you are well armed with training and want to fight with your hard work you will definitely win. He thanked Krishi Jagran for inviting him to deliver his message to the fellow farmers. Please click here to see the video yourself.

Harbir Singh

Harbir Singh

Kurukshetra, Haryana

Harbeer Nursery

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