Prabhat Dairy milks water to grow fodder for cattle

Amrita Nair Ghaswalla Mumbai | Updated on January 20, 2018 Published on May 15, 2016

“As a dairy company, we are not just focussed on milk collection, but are aiming to reduce production cost for farmers and revitalise the business.”

Hydroponics, the art of growing plants without soil, has come to the aid of the dairy farming business in Shrirampur, Ahmednagar.

For the over 300 cowsheds that Prabhat Dairy has been helping through its three-pronged Fodder Management Programme, hydroponics has provided a lifeline to this drought affected area of Maharashtra, where milk production has slid by 30 per cent.

Ashok Kandagale, a dairy farmer who owns 57 cows in rural Shrirampur, told BusinessLine this is the worst drought he has witnessed in over 50 years.

“There is no water for human consumption, leave alone for the animals. There is an entire month and more to go before the rains are here, and with no fresh drinking water available sometimes for three days at a stretch, it is a herculean task to feed the cattle,” he said.

How hydroponics works

But hydroponics has come to the rescue. Speaking about the technique, he says a kg of corn is soaked in water for 24 hours, and is allowed to sprout for another 24 hours.

It is then spread out on plastic trays, stacked on top of each other. A thin jute cloth covers the trays, shielding the corn against the harsh sun. Every hour a pump sprays minuscule amounts of water on the cloth, which seep onto the trays below.

After eight days, the green spiky shoots that sprout from the corn are harvested en masse with their roots and fed to the cows.

Kandagale explains that a kg of corn yields ten kg of green fodder. Instead of receiving nutrients from soil or fertilisers, the plants receive nutrients from water solutions that drip directly into the root system.

He adds that one of the advantages of hydroponics is that it is not stationary.

Kandagale is now planning to move his assembled hydroponics system to a large shed nearby, constructed for the purpose, so that his cattle can get an uninterrupted, steady flow of fresh fodder.

As the drought conditions intensifies across Maharashtra and the price of cattle fodder shoots up, Prabhat Dairy has been pushing farmers to adopt and employ the hydroponics method of farming, which is a cheaper and easier way to grow cattle fodder.

“As a dairy company, we are not just focussed on milk collection, but are aiming to reduce production cost for farmers and revitalise the business,” Sarang Nirmal, Chairman, Prabhat Dairy, told BusinessLine.

Stating that dairy farmers were set to exit the dairy farming business as it is no longer profitable, Vivek Nirmal, Joint Managing Director, Prabhat Dairy, said,

“At present, farmers incur a cost of ₹24-25 per litre of milk but sell at ₹20. Given the massive drought-like conditions across the state, fodder too has become expensive and unremunerative for the farmer.”

Fodder management

Adding that most of the State's dwindling water resources go into the agriculture sector, Nirmal said, “Analysts are predicting that due to high water costs and lower availability, this key part of our economy will move elsewhere. Fortunately, there is a way we can grow more fodder, in less space, using 90 per cent less water.”

Prabhat Dairy decided to take matters in its own hand and not rely on the government for sops. “We call it the three pillars of fodder management,” explained Vasant Karbade, AGM, Extension Services.

All vendors who are part of Prabhat’s supply chain are to be trained and educated about incorporating hydroponics and azola (sea weed, aquatic ferns), moor grass (Silage), and open cow sheds at their stables.

Vivek Nirmal added that the moor ghas (Silage) system has been in use in Israel for many years.

“Farmers in Punjab and Haryana have been using it. Most universities recommended it, but milk farmers were not attracted to it. We decided to focus on the benefits,” he said.

Prabhat Dairy’s Rajesh Lele added that 20 tonnes of fodder can be produced from an acre.

“It costs ₹5,000-7,000 to produce. We are educating dairy farmers about these practices, not just for use in their own cow sheds, but as a business. Farmers can sell the silage at ₹4/kg, whereas hydroponics’ fodder sells at ₹2.50-3 per kg,” he said.

(This correspondent was in Shrirampur at the invitation of Prabhat Dairy)

Published on May 15, 2016
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