[Startup Bharat] Why this agritech startup believes the future of farming is in hydroponics
Soilless farming – also known as hydroponics – may have piqued the interest of urban farmers in recent times, but the concept isn’t new. Legend has it that the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, were hydroponically grown!
Startups are now helping famers do the same – skip soil and grow plants in a nutrient-rich solution – and reap rich yields. Among them is Ahmedabad-based agritech startup Rise Hydroponics, which was founded in April 2020 by Tusshar Aggarwal, Meet Patel, and Vivek Shukla.
Image Credit: Rise Hydroponics
Rise Hydroponics provides end-to-end soilless farming solutions and is involved in developing both outdoor and indoor hydroponics farm projects.
Tusshar says the team was introduced to the technology three to four years back and began exploring the idea to “ensure growth of high nutritious crops and reduce India’s imports of exotic crops”.
The co-founders explain that one of the major benefits of hydroponics farming is that the crops are grown under controlled conditions and temperatures, and “can be grown all year round”.
“Our main objective with Rise Hydroponics is to empower farmers and make agriculture a profitable asset. We are also looking to reduce and stop the import of exotic crops, and ensure availability of healthy nutritious crops to meet the rising demand for food with increasing population,” Vivek says.
Illustration: YS Design
End-to-end soilless farming
Soilless farming, or hydroponics, is at a very nascent stage but is gradually becoming popular in India. The co-founders explained that in this system, plants are grown without soil in a liquid nutrient solution, which is a mix of essential plant nutrients with water, or inside moist inert materials such as Rockwool and Vermiculite.
The bootstrapped startup provides an end-to-end solution to farmers by helping them to set up infrastructure, guiding them to understand the technology, and teaching them how to manage it. Meet explains that the startup also provides the structures and nutrients to farmers.
“There are several hydroponic methods such as deep water culture, nutrient film technique (NFT), ebb and flow systems, wick systems among others but deep water culture and NFT are the most commercially viable ones,” Tusshar explains.
Vivek explains while there are several methods in the hydroponics system of agriculture but the most common is NFT (nutrient film technique) where the nutrient solution continuously flows under the plant roots.
NFT Technique [Image Credit: Rise Hydroponics Website]
The co-founders say compared to traditional methods of agriculture, hydroponics ensures higher productivity as plant nutrients are effectively absorbed and used. As the nutrient-laden solution is provided to plants, one can take control and provide personalised nutrients needed by a particular plant.
Apart from this, plants can easily absorb water directly, thereby ensuring higher utilisation. Plants grown through this technique are grown in a controlled environment, which keeps them safe from harmful pests. It also eliminates the need for using heavy amounts of chemicals and pesticides.
“Rise Hydroponics is aiding farmers to understand the technology, helping build the infrastructure, guiding them about the technique, and also teaching them how to manage it,” Tusshar says.
Vivek explains that any crops can be grown using this technique, but one needs to take care of the viability. Rise Hydroponics mostly works on exotic crops such as lettuce, basil, thyme, oregano, and rosemary among others.
“We also ensure IoT-based automation of the farms to help farmers and workers access the condition of the crops real-time using a web dashboard,” Tusshar adds.
Rise Hydroponics is also involved in indoor and rooftop farms. The startup claimed to have built a 12,000+ sq ft commercial hydroponics farm in Bhiwandi, which is expected to be operational soon. Apart from this, it has also built an indoor vertical hydroponics farm in Worli, Mumbai.
Image Credit: Rise Hydroponics
Business and more
Rise Hydroponics claims to have completed over 20 projects in 13 cities, including Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Surat, Gurugram, and Jamnagar.
According to the team, project costing varies as it depends largely on the process being followed, materials needed, area, and the type of crops being grown.
“Rise Hydroponics has also launched its online shop, Rise Freshz, where we directly sell crops grown via hydroponic system,” Tusshar says.
A report by DataM Intelligence revealed the India Hydroponics Market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 13.53 percent from 2020 to 2027. Similar to Rise Hydroponics, Gurugram-based Barton Breeze is also involved in building hydroponic farms. Kota-based agritech startup Eekifoods is also growing high-quality exotic vegetables using the hydroponics technique
Speaking about future plans, Tusshar says the company is looking to raise funds in the next six to eight months to further scale up its business open up farms in multiple cities across India. The agritech startup is also looking to enter foreign markets such as Canada, Abu Dhabi, and others.
"We are looking to open more offices, hire to expand team size, improve R&D, and realise our plan to open company-owned farms in eight to 10 major cities of India in the next one to one and a half years," Tusshar says.