Strawberries are growing in Rajasthan, and lettuce flourishing even in the Delhi summer.
“When you can control each of the conditions required for a particular plant — temperature, humidity, nutrition, amount and type of light — you can grow almost anything anywhere,” says Shivendra Singh, 33, founder and CEO of Barton Breeze.
This agrotech company is using technology powered by artificial intelligence (AI) to grow 38 fruits, flowers and vegetables — lilies and roses, melons and tomatoes — with minimal human intervention.
“We have three farm specialists,” says Singh. “An agronomist who knows the science, an entomologist to watch out for pests, and a plant physiologist to care for plant health.” The rest of the 36-member team are technology specialists.
Everything on Barton Breeze farms is automated, down to the lighting and ventilations systems, which switch themselves on and off. This enables larger yields in shorter periods of time, Singh says. “Lettuce traditionally grows in 60 days. In our system, it takes about 40 days. You set up a system to sow, transplant and harvest yield every day.”
The company has helped grow herbs and bell peppers in humid regions of Kolkata and Goa, spinach in the heat of Ahmedabad, and is now piloting a project to grow leafy vegetables in Ladakh, he adds.
All the parameters of a growing system are captured and logged against the growth of a plant. An app helps monitor the equipment remotely and maintain data on inventory, production, harvest dates, pest management, sales and accounting, and energy consumption.
Barton Breeze was started in 2015 in Dubai. “There was a need for such tech to make a place like Dubai more self-reliant,” says Singh, who ran a marketing agency there.
In the trial stage, which lasted a year, the company set up hydroponic (vertical, water-based) farms inside shipping containers in Dubai and Qatar. “We grew leafy vegetables, tomatoes and bell peppers and supplied to restaurants,” Singh says. In 2017, they expanded to India. “There is a great need for such technology here too.”
When it comes to the use of AI in hydroponics, Singh says there is plenty of information available. “But what works for the US or Netherlands might not be good for India in terms of system design. As ambient parameters vary, you have to tweak the machinery,” he says.
Barton Breeze set up its own R&D facility, a 2.29-acre farm in Gurgaon, where it ran trials for eight months before taking on clients in India. The company has since helped set up 31 such farms across 12 states. Collecting data from all of them contributes to increasing yield and reducing costs.
The minimum viable space, Singh says, is 1,000 sq metres. Gaurav Chawla, a data analyst from Amer, Rajasthan, has a Barton Breeze hydroponic farm on a half-acre plot of family land and uses it to grow leafy vegetables — mainly herbs and lettuce. “I am planning to expand with a half-acre system for vines,” Chawla says. “I’d like to be growing vegetables like tomatoes and bottlegourd.”
Over the last few months, the company has been taking its expertise into homes and helping urban farmers set up hydroponic planters too. Garima Sharma, 28, a marketing executive who lives with her husband and parents-in-law in Delhi, now grows her own iceberg lettuce in a set-up of 108 automated planters that cost around Rs 37,900.
“We put lettuce on everything – in sandwiches, on top of lauki, in salads of course,” she says. While Sharma has grown basil, bok choy and spinach in the two months since she got her home kit, she says most of the planters (which take up approximately the space of a bookcase) are used for lettuce. “It makes it much easier that the water cycle and light control are automated.”