Suma Agro India Pvt Ltd is a company that is going to the roots of agriculture to tackle challenges farmers face.

“There are thousands of companies offering solutions for problems above the soil, none for those beneath” to enhance crop productivity and production, remarks K Karthik, one of the two promoters of Suma Agro. Address soil health, and a large part of the farmers’ job is done.

A healthy soil means a healthy plant, more output with lesser inputs, so more savings for farmers, he explains.

But mostly “technology is plant focussed and not soil focussed.” So, there are conventional fertilisers for plant nutrition, he points out. With soil health, output can be sustained for longer. But with chemical inputs expenses go up as usage goes up.

Quoting government statistics, he says one kg of fertilisers helped produce 15 kg of foodgrains in 1970; this has dropped to less than one-third now.

So what is the solution that Suma Agro offers? And how did it come about? That is Humicas, a branded product, says Karthik.

Based on Active Humic Technology, from NLC, efficacy tried and tested by Tamil Nadu Agriculture University, it is a certified organic input. Humicas is a soil and plant nutrient supplement being produced by Suma Agro.

The 45-year-old Karthik, an electrical engineer, came upon this product when it was being developed at NLC, the public sector lignite mining and power generation company. He was involved with the fabrication of the plant during the concept stage for making lignite humic acid in 2002 along with his co-promoter in the business, Sumathi Balamurugan.

Karthik says he comes from a family rooted in agriculture and his interest in the technology was piqued. Both partners opted to get into the project when it was commercialised after being tested by TNAU between 2002 and 2008.

Explaining NLC’s association, he says, lignite is the raw material for the final product Pottassium Humate that involves releasing the organic carbon from lignite. This product enhances soil micro-organisms and improves biological action of the soil by breaking down compacted soil, increasing water retention and aeration in the root zone. This helps increase nutrient uptake by the plant. Fertiliser use can be cut by 25 per cent.

The intellectual property right is owned by the Government and Suma Agro pays a royalty on the final product.

The promoters set up a factory in Kelambakkam, to the south of Chennai, with a capacity of about 1 lakh litres a month. Production and sales started in 2014 and they sell about 2.5-3 lakh litres of Humicas every year. It is priced at about ₹ 300 a litre and 2-3 litres is needed per acre.

The promoters have invested ₹1.5 crore in plant and machinery. The company is now ready to scale with Ankur Capital bringing in ₹60 lakh in 2016.

Expansion plan

This year Suma Agro hopes to roll out its products in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. It works with farmers groups and Krishi Vigyan Kendras and agro products companies to popularise usage of Humicas.

The biggest challenge is in dealing with synthetic Pottassium Humate that is being imported from China, says Karthik.

Another issue is local regulations. Every State government is asking for a repeat test to start government purchases of the product. That is slow work.

Suma Agro is keeping at it gamely. It has also launched new products using in house technology. In 2016 it launched Flower Valley, an organic bio silicon for kitchen gardens, and will soon launch a organic viricide, he adds.