Vishal Shaukeen – engineer turned farmer from Delhi

Can you give us a brief introduction about yourself?
Sure. I am Vishal and I hail from Delhi. I am 25 years old and I have been farming on my own land in Delhi for the last two and a half years now.
I have about 20 acres of land under open field cultivation and another two and a half acres under greenhouse cultivation. I am planning on expanding it by another acre in the forthcoming month. I have substantial experience in cultivation and I have attended two training programmes pertaining to the same. I have had three seasons of crops so far – 2 seasons of seedless cucumbers, and a complete season of 10 months of red, yellow, orange and green bell pepper cultivation. I am planning to go organic very soon.

Are you an Electrical and Electronics Engineer who came into farming?
Yes. I was with an elevator company and was handling several contracts. I was a technical supervisor for the installation process.
One weekend, one of my friends who was working with Goraka Foundation, Nawalgad block, Rajasthan called me up. He was responsible for organic cultivation in Jhunjhunu district, Rajasthan. The purpose of the call was to inform about a lecture that was going to be delivered on micro irrigation and water management techniques to the villagers.
He called me for a one weekend workshop, and by the time the workshop came to a close, hardly 3-4 people subscribed for the facility offered by the government, because the farmer has come to distrust everybody. This was a point of realization for me.
One of the educated farmers among them told me that unless the things you advertise are not something you have done yourself -hands on, nobody will believe you.
The next day was a Sunday. I came back to Delhi, and by Monday I put my papers down with the company I was working for, and began wondering how to convince my family that I wanted to take a 180 degree turn in my career and life. Even my grandfather was not into agriculture. He was into government services.
I researched for about three to three and a half months. I was quite persistent and my family saw that I wouldn’t give up. They finally decided to give in. That was the hardest part – convincing your family – trust me! Everything else is manageable.
After venturing into the field, I realised that it is as normal a field as you want it to be. I also realised that everything has a purpose in agriculture and whatever you put into the soil, it gives you a return. It depends on you how you manage your crop. Of course, the natural elements like climate, environment, temperature and rainfall, etc. are issues that you have to deal with. But, the good part is everything else is in your own hands. Your output depends on how well you handle your crop.
The thing is, most of the time people take it up only as a hobby and treat it like a weekend job. They go to their farm on a Saturday or Sunday, be there for a while, see their crop, etc. If you do it that way, the result will also be likewise only.
To be honest, I haven’t had a holiday in the last 1 and half years. It is a 365-day job but it is very satisfying. You indulge a lot. I actually visit my farm every day.

You said that you have had this land already?
Our land was in the central area of Delhi and during the 1950s, when the Zamindari Act and everything else came into existence, the government was giving away land for cultivation to people migrating from Pakistan. Our land was acquired and we were given compensation in lieu of that. So, it was my great grandfather who was into agriculture.
My grandfather was a Civil Engineer and was a government employee who was posted in Nepal, Bhutan and everywhere across the Indian subcontinent. My father was with the Ministry of Water Affair and my uncle who did his Masters in Agricultural Sciences started his own business in 1999. So, he also didn’t turn to farming in his entire career.
During the 1960s, we ended up buying this land on the outskirts of Delhi. This land is in close quarters with Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. The quality of my land is actually quite surprising because it was in flood catchment area of the River Yamuna. It is very sandy and full of nutrients. It has spoiled over the course of time, but we are trying hard to bring it back to its best state.

We have good water, the EC is 0.8 – 1.1. 1.1 is alarming but we are able to manage that. The soil PH value ranges from 6.8 – 7.3/7.4. The organic carbon content which was at 0.2% when I started off has shot up to 0.36-0.37 this year. 0.4% of organic carbon is a must for every soil. That is where we are at.
Unfortunately, we cannot have cattle at our farm because we have theft issues over there. We are unable to source our cow dung from dairies. So, what we do is we grow fodder crops like cash crops. For example, we produce maize. At any point in time, I will at least have one and a half or two acres of fodder crop growing on my farm. Sometimes we have cow dung and sometimes we manage to get some cow’s urine. We have realised that the more organic nutrients you put into the soil, the more refreshed your soil gets. We have actually seen the colour of our soil change. The soil on our land was extremely brown – it was more towards the yellow side because the soil was spoiled by the excessive use of urea, and all other chemicals.
There are chemicals that were used unnecessarily. There is a pest called nematodes that prevent nutrient intake by the plant. It attacks the root of your plant. So, people tend to use too much chemicals to avoid the nuisance and attack of nematodes. The best way to deal with nematodes is have a decomposed well along with some bio agents. That will control the nematodes in your soil.

Can you shed some light on the greenhouse cultivation on your farm?
Basically, green houses are the structures that we build to harvest the work of the environment – the plants, to keep them warm. That is the basic concept of the green house. It protects the plants from all sorts of things.
Now, with the advent of technology, along with keeping things warm in the green house, we have techniques to decrease the temperature within green houses to a substantial extent too so that we can also cater to crops in extreme summers. These days the temperature on the outside of the green house, at my farm is about 45 degree Celsius. That is very harmful for the plant and that combined with the greenhouse effect, the temperature inside the polyhouse (greenhouse) can go up to > 60-65 degrees Celsius. The difference between a poly house and a green house is that a poly house is a greenhouse covered using polythene (plastic). The structure can be made up of different materials – glass house, net house etc. The major difference between them is the cost and the material with which they are built.
The glass house cannot be mass produced. We can’t have it over a very big area because glass is very heavy. Also, it can get unstable in the open when subjected to wind etc. So, glass houses does not work very well in open fields. We can have them on the roof top or a kitchen garden etc. But it is not practical on the field. That is why polyhouses became popular. It employs plastic sheets that are 250 microns thick. It also has light diffusing properties and so, only the essential elements from the sunlight will be diverted to the plant. It is a micro environment that you create for the crop.
In a poly house, along with the plastic material, we also need to check the orientation of the poly house. Winds blow from west to east or vice versa 90% of the time, in India. So, it is best to place your polyhouse from north to south so that you are perpendicular to wind field motion. This is very essential for air circulation too. You leave 1 and a half to 2 meter vents on the four sides for air circulation and for cooling.
The heating in a poly house works on the simple phenomenon of the greenhouse effect. You just close the poly house vents from all four sides and it automatically starts to heat up. The difference between the temperature outside and inside the polyhouse during winters also depends on the photo period – the light intensity during the day goes for more than +5 degree Celsius to +12 or 13 degree Celsius.

So, right now you cannot grow any crop due to the high temperature?
No, right now we wouldn’t grow any crop inside the poly house because it will be at extreme temperatures. So, we use this period to our advantage to conduct soil conditioning. In Delhi right now the temperature outside itself is very high, which means inside the polyhouse it will be higher.

The soil conditioning done now will be used for cultivation during the winters?
No. We can start cultivating starting mid-July. There is a process to keep it cool inside the poly houses.

How is that achieved?
Today, the temperature outside is approximately 42-43 degrees. Right now most of the land around my farm is barren. We have just harvested wheat and we are planning another crop. What happens now is, the temperature around the farm would be somewhere between 44-45 degrees. So, what we do is, we plough our land and flood it with water and manure – poultry waste, crop waste, etc. We make all this on our farm itself. We then cover it with a very thin plastic sheet and keep on flooding it with water. When we do this the temperature outside becomes >45 degree, the temperature inside the polyhouse will scale up to around 60 degrees. I also mentioned that we cover the land with a very thin plastic sheet as well. The temperature beneath that plastic sheet crosses over 70 degrees. So, what happens in the process is all the harmful bacteria, the nematodes, the fungus and the viruses, etc. that harmed the previous crop get subdued or goes very deep into the layers of the soil. The best part is, it doesn’t come up until next summer. We risk removing some of the beneficial bacteria as well but we supplement the soil by introducing the manure etc. we create.
Mid-July, would be ideal time to start cultivating again inside the polyhouse. I harvested my crop on 15 June. So, it is just a month or month and a half set aside for soil treatment – that is the only time when you cannot grow anything inside the polyhouse. This is the same for net house also.
In a net house the temperature inside doesn’t scale up as much as it does in a polyhouse. During the rains you cannot control the flow of water in a net house. You can control that in a polyhouse. In a net house, you cannot take a crop for two months during the monsoons and in a poly house the rest period is during the summers. The rest of the year you can have any crop you want to because you can also bring down the temperature or turn up the temperature in a green house.
To bring down the temperature, what happens is, during the process you can have micro foglets and sprinklers installed inside of the polyhouse. Micro sprinklers are placed such that the periphery and on top of the polyhouse gets sprinkled. This helps keep the plastic sheet clean too. Over time, dust accumulates on the plastic sheets. Cleaning it is essential for the exact amount of sunlight to percolate into the green house.
The micro sprinklers and foglets generate mist using an electric motor and runs on a pressure of 2.5 atmospheric units. They generate very thin droplets of water – it is less than 30 microns thick. On a windy day, especially when the wind blows hard, it creates an evaporative effect. The mist takes away the latent heat from inside of the poly house and it brings down the temperature within 2-2 and half minutes of running of the machine. We can have 5-6 degrees of temperature drop inside the poly house.
For example, if the temperature outside is 40 degrees, you can easily bring down the temperature inside the polyhouse to about 34 degrees in the first 2 and half minutes itself. If we keep doing that, in the course of the day, even if the temperature is very high, we are able to generate a difference of 10-12 degrees.
And, it is non-fluctuating. You can constantly keep it at a temperature range that is ideal for the crop. For every crop, the ideal temperature to grow is between 20 and 35 degree Celsius. This temperature is ideal for our functioning as well.
I come with an engineering background. All this detailed learning is a result of all the information gathered during 2 years of research and training at the Indian Institute of Horticulture Technology, Noida and the other centre.

How much did your engineering training help you in doing what you are doing now?
It did. The good thing about these trainings is that we get hands on experiences of the best practices. I am going to tell you upfront, very bluntly, that the knowledge that we have in books and on the Internet looks very good on paper, but once you start doing it you realise that the theory and practical is miles apart, like in any other field. What you understand from the reading in books may not be exactly what you need to do when you are on the field. Hands-on experience cannot be replicated into books totally.
Both these trainings I attended were for 5 days each.

Would you recommend these trainings for anyone who is new would like to venture into the agricultural path?
Of course. The basic problem is people are not willing to share information very easily. I have driven for around 15,000 kms in the last 2 and half years and trust me that is a lot! I travelled to a lot of farms.

What was the aim of those visits?
You have to see how people do farming. Being a layman I have nil experience in farming. The only stint in farming was maintaining my kitchen garden with my grandmother. So, I had to see it being done on a large scale. So, I travelled immensely. Every time I got information about something new a farmer does, I used to go to the spot to see it being done.
Some share information, some don’t. That is why I made it a point to go for a formal training to have a better understanding and gain proper knowledge.

What is the reaction of the other traditional farmers around your farm?
People still think that I am crazy. I can’t go convince everybody about what I do. But, once they come and talk to me, I help them out.
Obviously, I have been a part of the local farmers’ association for the last two years. Initially, they had this attitude that I didn’t know anything about farming. They have been doing it for generations and I was never into it – forget me not even generations before me. So, who was I to comment?
Having said that, with the generation of revenue, they realised that I know what I am doing.

Have you been able to generate enough revenue to pay for your lifestyle?
Absolutely Sir! I have been self-sustaining for the last 2 and half years. It is going good.
Of course, initially the cost of installation etc. comes into the picture, and the cost of maintenance is very high. The amount of labour that goes into farming, farmers can’t afford to even that out. But even after adding that I am able to sustain a decent amount of profit.
It is not extravagant; but that can be achieved only if you go organic. The organic market is booming and they sell their produce at 1600% increase approximately as compared to their cost of production. If you can attain that, you do well. That is what I am planning to do. In fact I have already begun doing it.
We are going to get a yellow label certificate this year. That means we have successfully completed one year of organic cultivation. Along with that, I have set up my own network of supplies, which currently I only sell to the people I know.
We harvest our crop and supply it to nearby houses within the first 32 hours of harvest. That adds additional value to the food. The residue free produce is the USP I have with my horticultural crop. That helps me charge a premium price for the produce I sell especially for the delivery as well. That is how you generate a very huge revenue.
Some of it goes into expenses and some to the company. I spent the first 6 and a half months in networking. We have Big Basket, Reliance and every other big shot in the nearby areas. The understanding with them is that we need to cultivate the crop and give them a sample. If the sample gets approved you get an order throughout the week.
The demands shifts from day to day. Sometimes, it dips but then you learn how to handle both the ups and downs. It becomes a part of your DNA.
Then, you also have calculations running in your head about what the prices and demand are going to be each coming day. Gradually you get to predict, harvest and sell accordingly. Of course, green house crops fetches you higher rates than traditional crops owing to the size, quality and shelf life of the produce. I have successfully had three crops from inside my greenhouse – tomatoes, bell peppers, and seedless cucumbers. This year I am planning for strawberries as well.
Apart from this, any plant that is to be grown inside the green house will require pollination and inside a greenhouse that is not possible. The only pollination factor you have entering a green house is wind and that is not very effective. We will have to manually pollinate every plant and every flower, if we need to go for some other crop.
There are different varieties that can be grown in a green house. The ones that are self-pollinated, like bell pepper and the ones that don’t require pollination, like the seedless cucumber.
The crop that doesn’t require pollination comes in different varieties – mini variety, big variety etc. Depending on your market you have to select that which is better saleable.
Visit the market place and plan your crops accordingly. Plan a crop a month in advance when you plan to harvest your current crop. Also, leave some time for conditioning the soil. That is an important phase to rejuvenate the soil.
Cultivating organic crops in itself is a great contribution to the environment in the long run. The organic market is growing at a high pace.

Mr.Vishal Shaukeen
Phone number: +91-9971665667
Email address:
Farm address: village palla, delhi-110036