Coimbatore

Greenhouse farmers discard harvested flowers

Greenhouse farmers, who were looking to a summer of weddings and temple festivals propelling demand for flowers, have started to discard harvested flowers because of the surge in COVID-19 cases and the resultant curbs.

With weddings forced to scale down, bookings cancelled, and temple festivals banned, flowers that ring in the festivities are being discarded out of greenhouses for want of demand, here in Bagalur. “Demand or no demand, flowers will have to be harvested or the crop will be lost,” says M. Harish Babu, a greenhouse farmer in Bagalur. But, there is just so long the harvested flowers can be stored. With absent demand, the flowers are being dumped by the greenhouse farmers.

Wedding bookings in big halls have been cancelled. Whatever little demand for flowers for low-key temple weddings is hard to meet due to the night curfew, says Mr. Babu, who owns 12 acres of greenhouse cultivation and six acres of open field crop. Flowers are transported at night to avoid the daytime heat. Tempos carry flowers during nights to Kerala, Karnataka and Chennai, he says. But with the night curfew enforcement, the movement of the limited quantity of flowers, too, has been affected, he says. For the flower growers, March is a dull month. April, May and June bring muhurtams and ceremonies pushing up demand for flowers. “In March, we were under the impression that the worst is over, since last year was a complete loss.”

For the greenhouses, unlike the open fields, flower production is a 365 cycle in order to keep up the capital investment on the polyhouse.

Adding to farmers’ woes is the vertical rise in input costs. According to Mr. Babu, last year, the paper for packaging of flowers cost ₹36,000 per tonne. This year, it has gone up to ₹56,000 per tonne. The cost of fertilizers and pesticides doubled from ₹300 per ltr to ₹700 per ltr. Same is the case with other critical inputs like growth hormones, he says.

Overall the cost of production had gone up per acre costing ₹2.20 lakh per acre, from the earlier ₹1.30 lakh per acre.

Since the onset of the pandemic, farmers have been compelled to foot the production/plantation costs through non-institutional credit sources. Fear of losing credit ratings with banks, green house farmer, are looking to plug the gaps through non-bank borrowings, says another farmer not willing to be named.

“I have borrowed outside of bank, from ‘kandu vatti’, because banks are refusing to lend knowing the COVID-19 situation is bad. But fields cannot be left to go fallow, because of the capital investment in polyhouse for greenhouse construction, which itself is ₹50 lakh capital investment,” says Mr. Babu.

Unlike open fields, green houses need regular plantation irrespective of demand. This entails labour costs with or without market for flowers.

Every alternate day, green house farms are harvested and the flowers are stored in anticipation of demand. After 10 days of cold storage, the flowers are discarded to make space for the new harvest. “This has been the case since the start of the second wave of the pandemic,” he says. There is also the maintenance of cold storage, including the electricity costs, he says.

In this chain, the labourers of greenhouses have suffered, subsidising the capital costs for the owners.

“The labourers are paid ₹7,000 to ₹8,000 per family, while the cost of running a family is nothing less than ₹15,000 at least,” acknowledges Mr. Babu.


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Printable version | Jun 23, 2021 5:56:41 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Coimbatore/greenhouse-farmers-discard-harvested-flowers/article34388382.ece

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