HYDERABAD: When it was introduced back in 2013, there was a great buzz around polyhouse farming with many progressive farmers, IT employees and even bureaucrats jumping on the bandwagon. With the State government too providing subsidies for establishing polyhouses in 1,000 acres, all these neo-farmers were happy and expected higher returns as the technology promised year-long production of exotic vegetables, fruits and flowers.
But as the time passed on, their enthusiasm died. Now, just around 200 to 300 farmers are continuing with polyhouse farming after having survived all odds.
“Right from the beginning it was a recipe for failure. Most of them who had subscribed were not serious farmers. They were either professionals who could invest and were enthusiastic or those who got subsidies but were not informed enough,” Panduranga Reddy, who still runs a polyhouse in Rangareddy district, told Express.
Polyhouses were designed for growing indeterminate varieties of exotic vegetables like capsicum, including coloured capsicum, European cucumber and flowers like gerbera, carnation, chrysanthemum and other varieties which were commercially viable. “Due to excess production in the initial stages, the prices were low. That left many desperate to recover their production cost as they invested tens of lakhs of rupees. For the second crop, they were required to invest more. Farmers naturally got discouraged,” Reddy observed.
“Temperature, humidity and elevation are favourable to polyhouses in coastal areas but not in Telangana. Though foggers were provided to create humidity, aeration equipment wasn’t provided,” he said, adding that right from the start, farmers were supposed to plan their crops anticipating the diseases and pest attacks in view of the controlled climate and in many cases it was not done.
The harsh weather conditions usually seen between March and June turned the situation worse, with strong winds and hailstorms blowing away the polyhouse films and pest control becoming an exhaustive task.
Lack of knowledge, guidance affected polyhouse farming
S Yella Reddy, an IT employee-turned farmer from Siddipet, cultivated gerbera, carnation and other exotic flowers at his polyhouse. After a few years, he witnessed soil degradation, leading to soil-borne diseases affecting his half-acre farm. A hailstorm was the final nail in the coffin. However, he was smart enough to diversify into dairying and natural five-layered polyhouse system.
“Polyhouses require that both chemical fertiliser as well as bio-manure are applied to provide adequate nutrients to the plants. But farmers kept applying fertilisers due to heavy investment needed to procure bio manure, the reason why soils got degraded rapidly. Soil-borne pathogens, nematodes and pests brought down fertility in plants considerably,” observed Yella Reddy while pointing out that farmers had to largely depend on imported genetically-modified seeds.
“Farmers were not supposed to cultivate determinate or semi-determinate crops, but they did. With no official guidance on crop selection, integrated crop management and marketing, it was doomed to fail,” says Panduranga Reddy, who diversified his farming by adding three to four acres net house to his polyhouse.
While agreeing that polyhouse farming is challenging for amateurs, Director of Horticulture L Venkatram Reddy suggested shifting cultivation as the best way forward.