Barton Breeze operates fully-automated hydroponics farms to grow pesticide-free vegetables.
By Deepsekhar Choudhury
India’s agriculture sector faces multiple problems: groundwater levels are depleting rapidly, the net sown area remains stagnant, pesticide use is booming and the farm-to-food time lag is increasing. A solution to any one of those problems could be a great entrepreneurial venture. But IIM Ahmedabad alumnus Shivendra Singh is out to convince the world that hydroponics — an agri-system that does not need soil, recycles water and can be installed even on rooftops—could be a panacea for all the pain points.
Founded in 2015, Barton Breeze operates fully-automated hydroponic farms to grow clean and pesticide-free vegetables. The startup also sets up such farms for other investors and handholds them initially with know-how and training. It helps its partners take their hydroponics produce to the marketplace via its tie-ups with companies such as BigBasket and Radisson. The startup has onboarded a stellar team that includes a former Flipkart executive and an agro-technologist with 25 years of experience in hydroponics.
Before scaling up, Barton Breeze ran a pilot in Rajasthan with strawberries in the summer months. “The idea is to reduce the duration it takes for produce to reach the plate after harvest,”” says Singh. “We did temperature control, did away with soil, brought in multi-layer vertical farming. That way we could grow 10 times more in space with respect to traditional farming.”
Barton’s price point is usually half of what’s charged for imported produce. For example, it sells lettuce at Rs 80 per kg in the months of June, July, and August when the imported kind costs Rs 200. Delhi-NCR has to get coriander from Bengaluru during the rainy season and the price hovers above Rs 200 per kg at Azadpur mandi – almost double the Rs 110 per kg price point of the company. At present, it grows 1,600 tonnes of produce yearly which includes 32 crop varieties.
The startup has built 17 farms across nine states in India and some locations in Dubai and Qatar. At present it has 11 acres of cultivable space and is targeting 50 acres for FY 2021. The size of a typical farm ranges from one eighth of an acre to two acres. Singh says that even though it’s an EPC contractor, the startup’s DNA is that of a tech firm and not a construction company. Barton Breeze has developed tech which makes it possible to control all the conditions in a farm through an application from a remote site.
However, capex is a challenge. It takes around Rs 2,500 per square metre to set up a one-acre or half-acre farm. The government has been looking at a policy to subsidise farmers in the hydrophonics space. The Maharashtra government started a scheme to subsidise 50% capital costs for hydroponics farming of animal fodder.
Barton Breeze’s current farm-to-fork time is 2 hours and it’s developing a plan to reduce it to 30 minutes. It involves promoting hydroponics in a kitchen garden where glow lights could be used as a substitute of sunlight. The startup is bootstrapped as of now but is looking to close its Series A round of funding soon for the 30-minute project.