Traditionally known as the hub of wheat and paddy crops,Punjab is now making a name for itself for its baby corn crop that it exports to the UK and many more European countries. Started from just 40 tonnes in 2006-07,the export figure is going to touch 500 tonnes this year. If farmers are to be believed,the supply will still fall short of the demand.
As a result,more and more farmers are now going for contract farming to grow baby corn.
What I used to earn from my one acre area of paddy and wheat in the entire year was half of which I am getting now from three to four cycles of baby corn crop in a year, says Kulwinder Singh of Heran village in Nakodar area of Jalandhar. I harvest three to four yields in a year,and sell it to Field Fresh (Bharti Group Enterprises) company under contract farming, he adds.
I also own a dairy farm of around 150 cattle heads. After harvesting,the plants of baby corn are used as fodder and save expenses on it, says Kulwinder,who is growing baby corn on around 35 acres of land.
A farmer can produce up to 55 quintals of baby corn per acre. It is a time-bound crop and needs harvesting at the perfect timing. In Punjab,the baby corn seasons are February-March,May-June,August-September and then till mid-December.
A farmer can earn an average of Rs 25,000 to 35,000 per acre every quarter against the Rs 40,000 to 50,000 that they can make from wheat and paddy in the entire year,say farmers.
The produce is being procured at the rate of Rs 5.50 to Rs 8 per kg,depending on the quality and maturity of the crop.
When I grow baby corn under contract farming,I have to invest Rs 10,000 to 12,000 per acre in sowing and earn around Rs 35,000 per acre, says Surinder Singh of Bagga village near Shahkot in Jalandhar. He says the crop needs very little water for irrigation,and requires almost no pesticide and fertiliser.
We have to meet all the standards of export quality, says Mangal Singh of Jalandhar who finds baby corn a good substitute in terms of crop diversification.
The crop is being imported by UK,Holland and other European countries as around half a dozen UK and Europe-based companies,including Barfoot,Summer’s Field,Nature’s Pride,MWW,Bud Holland and Tesco,are procuring baby corn from Field Fresh Foods (P) Limited,which has roped in all these farmers to grow baby corn and provided all technical knowhow and a market.
Bharti had started a joint venture a few years ago and opened a 300-acre farm leased from Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) near Ludhiana with a complete research and development programme on baby corn.
With only few 100 acres under cultivation in 2006,baby corn covers nearly 3,000 acres today and involves around 350 farmers, says Kamaljit Singh,the Punjab state area in-charge of Field Fresh. He says farmers are imparted all training at the PAU farm free of cost,while the internationally-acclaimed EurepGAP certification is also provided to them.
We have huge orders but cannot export more than 500 tonnes as we have this much of packaging facility in place at the moment, he adds.
Singh says they are planning to expand the packaging facility by opening another state-of-the-art packhouse in Jalandhar.