High-tech agriculture: The extraordinary profits of hydroponic vegetable farming

Published: March 23, 2012

Through this technique, farmers can get between 450 and 550 tons of vegetables per acre, compared to the average yield of 15 tons per acre from traditional farming, according to Fareed Farmhouse project director Rana Zahid. PHOTO: FILE

FAISALABAD: 

Tahir Rana is a nuclear physicist who gave up a job in Canada to set up a vegetable farm in Faisalabad. He is part of a growing number of people worldwide who have been drawn in by the extraordinary profits in hydroponic vegetable farming, a new method that dramatically increases productivity and thus farmer incomes.

Hydroponic farms are unique in that they do not require any fertile soil. Indeed many of the world’s largest hydroponic farms are set up in the deserts of the Middle East or unfertile soils in other parts of the world. Seeds are placed in a growing medium – which can be either solid or liquid – in trays made from steel pipes. The advantage of this system is that nearly all of the nutrients poured into the growing medium are absorbed by the plant, making it exponentially more efficient and increasing productivity manifold.

Rana has set a up a small company just outside Faisalabad called Fareed Farmhouse, where he produces three varieties of tomato (cherry tomato, strawberry tomato, beef tomato), cucumber and capsicum. His production capacity is significantly above the norm.

“Through this technique, farmers can get between 450 and 550 tons of vegetables per acre, compared to the average yield of 15 tons per acre using traditional farming,” said Rana Zahid, the project director at Fareed Farmhouse.

Rana uses coconut waste imported from Sri Lanka as the solid medium in which he grows his plants. The vegetable plants are then irrigated through a water injection system. Fareed Farm uses reverse osmosis water purification systems to ensure the quality of the water.

Each plant requires up to two litres of water per day, which needs to be slightly acidic, with a pH of 5.8, according to Zahid.

Fareed Farmhouse produces relatively high-end vegetables that are consumed by higher income customers. His buyers include some of the large retail and wholesale chains in the country as well as hotels that have traditionally imported many of these vegetables from Europe.

Rana sells the tomatoes for about Rs225 per kilogram, compared to the cost of importing them from the Netherlands, which can run as high as Rs800 per kilogram. The seeds for the tomatoes at Fareed Farmhouse are imported from Canada and many of the other raw materials from China and Sri Lanka. Yet while the imported raw materials can be expensive, the method allows the company to save on other expenses.

“Our production method allows us to not use any kind of pesticides,” said Rana Arshad, a quality control officer at Fareed farmhouse.

The methods used by Fareed Farmhouse, however, do not come cheap. Hydroponic farming requires an investment of up to Rs1.5 million per acre, though it can yield net profits of up to Rs3 million per acre annually. Tahir Rana, however, is not content with just reaping the rewards of the existing techniques. He plans to spend up to Rs4 million in researching new methods and new variants of seeds. He is also planning on rapidly expanding his production base to up to 20 acres in the Faisalabad area.

Rana is a firm believer in the potential of hydroponic farming to transform Pakistani agriculture. “Every year, we import vegetables from India. If the government takes an interest in promoting these new technologies, we would not need to import from other countries. In fact, the country could earn a lot of foreign exchange by exporting to other countries.”

While Fareed Farmhouse is thus far focused on high-end vegetables, it appears that the company believes this method can be used to produce more mass market products as well.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 23rd, 2012.

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Reader Comments (26)

  • Meekal Ahmed
    Mar 23, 2012 - 2:29PM

    This is excellent news and shows how we can durably raise productivity and incomes. I commend Mr Rana for his innovation and hope this can be replicated by others so that the benefits of this innovation can be spread more widely.

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  • Kashif
    Mar 23, 2012 - 4:05PM

    I want to visit and see this farm.Please share the address.Thanks

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  • Mard-e-Haq
    Mar 23, 2012 - 8:35PM

    Well done ET. A superb educational features article. Keep it up.

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  • Shahid
    Mar 23, 2012 - 10:10PM

    Excellent work Mr. Rana. Pakistan need new farming technologies like this, I am also planning to do the same. Would you mind to give me your contact details and any case study sort of document if feasible?

    Keep up the good work…….

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  • Mirza
    Mar 23, 2012 - 11:06PM

    A good educational article on the hot subject for Pakistan. In other parts of the world it is happening for a long time and it is not rocket science. The need of the hour is to transfer our national resources from war toys to the basic needs of people. Some of the things that are done in other countries are:
    Giving energy efficient bulbs to people almost free of cost to save energy instantly. This included the new LED bulbs as well.
    Trading the old clunkers for fuel efficient vehicles
    Agricultural subsidiaries to farmers who help the environment
    Hydroponic is so common in many countries that even the narcotics are grown this way.
    Let us educate our poor farmers and provide them with the tools of the trade to increase their yields and change their lives.

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  • A R GHAZI
    Mar 24, 2012 - 12:06AM

    GREAT JOB WE R PROUD OF YOU SIR
    RANA ZAHID SB CAN I VISIT UR FORM

    GOD BLESS YOU KEEP IT UP
    PAKISTAN ZINDABAD

    ALLAH HAFIZ
    GHAZI

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  • hina
    Mar 24, 2012 - 6:01AM

    WATCH OUT. Now that you have disclosed your successs Mr Rana someone in the army or high ranking Pakistani official will pounce on you and threaten you to sell your business to them for PEANUTS!

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  • Dr. Mohammad Ilyas
    Mar 24, 2012 - 9:43AM

    This is a failed technology, which has failed everywhere for two reasons: (1) the product that comes out of hydroponic has no taste, (2) the production cost is so high, which cannot compete with the traditional farming, especially where agricultural land water is available.

    From marketing aspect I believe mushroom production at commecial scale through high tech farming has better prospects in Pakistan, given that so far there is no such farm. Currently all need being met through imports.

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  • Bilal Pervez
    Mar 24, 2012 - 12:53PM

    Can we please visit the farm an address or an email address would be great.

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  • wahid ali
    Mar 24, 2012 - 1:01PM

    Very good achievement to achieve high productivity and meet the nationwide requirement. I really appreciate these excellent efforts. I need details if available to understand the same to implement the idea and to enhance productivity.

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  • José Eduardo de Salles Roselino
    Mar 24, 2012 - 4:36PM

    Can this method be adapted in order to produce carrots,potatos, beet and or sugar-beet. Vegetables that growth inside the soil, using replacement substrates. Like we can do to increase attached cells in large surface areas and/or 3D to study tumors,for instance. I think that, this will lead to an almost complete replacement of old forms of agriculture.

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  • Siraj uddin Abro
    Mar 24, 2012 - 6:31PM

    i need some assistance from Mr rana. If you can provide me your email or phone number i would be be grateful

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  • Mar 25, 2012 - 5:46PM

    glad i red this article ,could someone advice me the contacts email for mr Rana and adress of fareedfarmhouse . thanks hassan

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  • gyas
    Mar 25, 2012 - 9:48PM

    dear sir i m very glad could i visit ur farm plz give me permission thanks
    plz give ur farm location i m waiting.
    Thanks in advance.
    Gyas Bajwa

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  • Asad A.
    Mar 26, 2012 - 3:23AM

    AoA, Dear Mr Asif Rana, A great writing. I am a farmer and would like to visit Fareed Farmhouse. Could you kindly relay the contact number/ address etc?
    Thanks for article.
    Asad

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  • Naeem Shahzad
    Mar 26, 2012 - 3:47PM

    Please share contact details

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  • Sara
    Mar 26, 2012 - 7:40PM

    Well done Rana. Would you be interested to train “would be hydroponics entrepreneurs”. I am very much interested, Sara

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  • Adama NEYA
    Mar 26, 2012 - 10:34PM

    Dear Sir Rana,

    Congratulations for this initiative. I am based in Burkina, in a semi-arid zone. I need your contact address (Email address) to share more with you.
    Best regards. Adama.

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  • wahid ali
    Mar 27, 2012 - 1:12PM

    May i ask for contact number or Farid farm house adress to visit the site.Thanks.

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  • Col Retd Nasir Iqbal
    Mar 29, 2012 - 9:43AM

    Dear Rana Sb,
    excellent job done, can i get your contact details to visit ur farm or discuss.
    Best Regards,
    Col Nasir

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  • Col Retd Nasir Iqbal
    Mar 29, 2012 - 9:46AM

    excellent Job done, can u plz share ur contact details.
    thanks,
    Best regards,
    Col Nasir

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  • mohammad azhar
    Mar 31, 2012 - 2:06PM

    :

    excellent work MR RANA we appreciate your effort to make this fantastic project .
    this is the only way to help the economy and to tackle the food crisis of the now rapidly increasing population of our country. nothing is impossible if you put your mind to it.

    Mohammad Azhar Ireland

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  • wahid ali
    Apr 3, 2012 - 3:34PM

    Contact numbers or Fareed farmhouse adress requested many times but still not provided. Is ther any problem? pl provide if exist.

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  • Imran Rana
    Apr 23, 2012 - 7:06PM

    send mail to….
    imran.anwaar@tribune.com.pk
    for getting more information regarding your queries.

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  • Col Retd Nasir Iqbal
    Apr 23, 2012 - 7:20PM

    waiting response, inorder to visit/ meeting with you.

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  • Imran Rana
    Apr 23, 2012 - 7:34PM

    @Sara: Imran Rana
    imran.anwaar@tribune.com.pk
    every one can get information via mail.

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