In the first part of this series, we had established a case for setting up of small-scale Hydroponic Fodder units to meet the vast demand-supply gap for green fodder. In today’s article, we will share with you the results of our small experiment to grow Fodder using Hydroponics and indicative profitability analysis for such a unit.
Our experiment with growing Fodder:
We wanted to do a quick setup and so used the materials that were handy. The primary objective of the research was to establish the yield that one could get per kg of fodder grains in an average case scenario (as against a laboratory set-up with the controlled environment) with minimal use of automation.
We used wheat grains for our experiment as they were easiest to find. As per data available in the public domain, each Kg should give us up to 6 kg of green fodder for wheat.
You will find below the images of how our experiment went:-
On Day 7, we stopped the experiment. The yield we received was approx 3.75 kg of green fodder for each kg of grains (against an expected yield of 6 kg).
As we introspected, there could be many factors that led to the lower yield. Some of them are:-
- Sprouting of seeds directly in the tray – instead of wrapping the seeds in cheesecloth and letting them germinate (the way one would do for lentils), we allowed the seeds to sprout directly in the fodder tray. This may have reduced the growth rate and increased the harvest cycle (if we harvested on 8th or 9th day, yield could be nearer to the benchmark).
- Lack of aeration – as we did a quick and dirty set-up, one mistake we did was taking the trays without perforations. Perforations in the base allow for ventilation and drainage of excess water which did not happen in our experiment.
- Irregular watering cycle – we watered the tray manually, which means that the periodicity and measure of watering were not precise. Also, there were long periods (during the night) of no watering.
Looking at the above data, we feel that it will not be difficult to achieve the yield of at least 5 kg (if not 6) if one does the process right. Also, since the learning curve is pretty steep (every 7 days you get one new harvest), one can quickly learn from their mistakes and move to the optimal yield.
This experiment has excited us to set-up a dedicated fodder unit in our Vertical Farming Research Centre in Ahmedabad. We will share with you the results we achieve at a larger scale in the next few months.
For now, let us look at the cost dynamics or profitability of setting up a small-scale Hydroponic Fodder unit.
Profitability analysis of a small-scale Hydroponic Fodder unit:
Any hydroponic fodder unit will consist of the following 3 essential components:-
- The fodder trays in which fodder will be grown.
- The frames or structure that will hold the fodder trays.
- The watering and plumbing system.
For the sake of calculations, we will consider a 2,500 sq. Ft. Unit (land area) in a 50×50 configuration. Depending upon the site layout and no. of layers, the final pricing will vary. However, the calculations below will give you a ballpark estimate of cost dynamics.
Frames: We are considering two-sided structures (that farmer can access from both sides) made of rust-proof metal. Each frame will have 5 vertical layers and can accommodate 120 trays. In the given area, we can fit 14 such frames at a total cost of approx INR 3.15 Lakhs.
Fodder Trays: We are considering a tray size of 2 ft x 1.5 ft so that the weight (of fully grown fodder) can be easily handled by one individual. At approx INR 250 for each tray, the trays should cost approx 4.20 Lakhs.
Water tank and plumbing connections: This will vary based on layout, but we will take a ballpark figure of 0.50 Lakhs for our calculations.
Thus, the above 3 components for a 2,500 sq. Ft. Hydroponic Fodder unit will cost approx 7.85 Lakhs in Capital Expenditure. This does not include the cost of land and outer structure (room/shed/polyhouse etc.).
On the operational side, the 3 crucial cost components would be:-
The monthly cost towards these for our set-up (assuming seed cost of 10 Rs per Kg and going rates for water and electricity) would be approx INR 0.67 Lakhs.
Assuming a yield of 5kg of green fodder for each kg of dry grain and selling price of INR 5 per kg, the monthly income would be INR 1.26 Lakhs thus giving a gross margin of INR 0.59 Lakhs per month.
Please note that this does not cover costs towards labor, selling and marketing, logistics towards taking the produce to the market, and other operational expenses. These costs will vary from case to case and project to project.
The established capacity will give on an average 850 kg of green fodder per day which should be sufficient to meet the needs of 45 – 50 cows (depending upon the breed).
Thus, we believe that there does exist a case for setting up of small-scale hydroponic fodder units for a collective of a few farmers. This will ensure savings on labor and logistics cost leading to profitability for such small groups.
Word of caution:
A hydroponic fodder unit is prone to infestation by the fungus (due to high humidity levels), and one would need to ensure proper drainage and sterilization to protect against the same.
In our experiment, since the conditions were ripe for fungus growth, the same did affect our production. Following images will show you a close-up of fungus growth that we encountered on Day 7 and Day 8.
If you do run a hydroponic fodder unit or know of someone who does, do share your experience with us.
Gaurav is an entrepreneur whose first Start-up was focused on providing services to patients suffering from Chronic Diseases. While researching about the causes of lifestyle diseases and the ways to reduce their incidence, he chanced upon the idea of growing healthy and nutritious food using advanced farming techniques.
He founded CityGreens with a mission to enable City Dwellers to access Safe, Healthy and Fresh food.