India, Fresco Company

PGO Horticulture in India

I spent the two weeks before Easter in India. The growing site was approx one hour outside Hyderabad. (Bearing in mind this is not like 1hr travel in Auckland!). Hyderabad is the fourth most populated city with 6.8 million in a 650 square kilometre area, (10,500 near enough per square kilometre). There is another 7.7 million in the outlying area. Needless to say, the travelling was very interesting for someone who thinks Friday lunchtime in Matamata is busy, if I cannot get a park outside the bank.

The company I was working with while there, Fresco, is already an established supplier of vegetables. They offer pre-packed, graded, high quality produce. The sale of "branded" vegetables of many types all under one brand is not so unusual to us, but is finding new popularity with city dwellers in India wanting product from a supplier concentrating on freshness, consistency and convenient buying. A separate but integral part of the business, delivers at regular times to areas with modern temperature controlled mini-trucks. These contain state of the art point of sale technology, and offer 0.5kg "breathable" film packed veges.

As part of their forward planning they chose hydroponics in conjunction with PGO Horticulture Ltd to supply some of the produce. With water use and growing in an eco-friendly way of concern they see hydroponics as an obvious addition to their company, and created the Centre of Precision Farming. This property, in conjunction with the modern packing and post harvest centre in the city, are able to offer fresh produce to the door in less than 24 hours. Also as collaborative farming is an integral part of Fresco operations in India, they have a dedicated division for training farmers and providing technical support. PGO Horticulture Ltd is proud to be assisting with this new initiative.

Initially the site has two greenhouses both 47M X 47M. One with an NFT (nutrient film technique) system of benches and one with a set of DFT (deep flow technique) beds. This system was designed in conjunction with PGO Horticulture Ltd. The system runs from one 40,000L main nutrient tank, with Autogrow Systems automatic control for the CF and pH of the nutrient and also fogging control of the environment.

In NZ when fogging for cooling or for humidity increase, the longest pulse "on" time I have set is 8 seconds. This is for a high roof structure and in very dry hot conditions..... in India we were running 30 seconds and not wetting the crop. The very low humidity (lowest I saw on the controller was 9%) and high temperatures (highest I saw was 46 degrees) meant that raising the humidity into the mid 60's saw a temp drop of around 9 degrees. This was a good trick when the press visited. The system came together in the last few days, after a few delays in receiving parts, and also while the Reverse Osmosis Machine was fine-tuned (makes 40,000L/day). This was required due to the levels of salinity in their well water. In these climates the last thing needed is a Sodium build up in the nutrient, as this would seriously affect the calcium uptake and make growing the crops they had in mind, impossible. The nutrient solution was designed specifically by PGO Horticulture to suit their situation.

There is a certain exhilaration mixed with nerves when the switches are first thrown on a system with a 7.5kw pump (1500L/Min in a 110mm feed pipe) and where the PVC fittings are of a different quality to the ones you are used to. When the return water matched the outgoing and the system was running and recirculating there was a certain amount of cheering.

The staff were trained in nutrient mixing (using a 500kg mix in 2 X 3000L tanks) and shown the way to dilute acid etc. The laptop was connected, and software from Autogrow systems was installed along with the computer interface, so logging of the nutrients temperature, conductivity and PH along with the environment data could begin.

With the fogging system operating the environment inside the greenhouses, was more pleasant than outside. The system dosed as planned and all was working in time for me to be rushed to the plane.

Some of my best memories while working were the very friendly workers and the efforts they made for me, the lack of concern for electrical wiring (very little has a plug but is instead just bare wires plugged straight in), the heat and how much water you can drink (all bottled), eating every four or so hours day and night (I had informed them of my love of Indian food so was incredibly well looked after), working at 2AM when it was cooler, the trip to and from the site from the city, with all that it offered in viewing, and the fact that the electricity supply goes off regularly necessitating an auto start generator.

India is truly a country of great contrast, in so many ways. For a guy from a small Waikato town some of the sights were hard to see.... but the people were all smiling and I was so well looked after, I look forward to going again....

Neville Stocker
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