Ravi Dhaliwal, Tribune News Service
Gurdaspur, July 9. Eighteen-year-old Chetan Verma is brimming with youthful exuberance and has stars in his eyes. His passion of growing strawberries in this non-descript township is catapulting him to new heights.
Chetan who was part of the Punjab team that participated in the 2012 junior national boxing championship, one day decided to give up the sport he so passionately loved. He wanted to do something new and innovative, so he decided to take up strawberry farming in a small town like Gurdaspur. He risked his father’s savings and after two yields, he has now become the most sought-after young farmer in the town.
To begin with, the ‘strawberry boy’ visited the local Punjab Agricultural University Research Station to get knowledge on how to grow the fruit. He was exasperated after the officials there told him they had no inkling what strawberry farming was. Last year, he visited a relative in Solan (Himachal Pradesh) who gave him a couple of thousand young plants, which he transplanted on a well-irrigated two acre plot taken on lease by his father Rakesh Verma. Now after two years of hard work involving growing and marketing of the fruit in his own home brand ‘Zoot’, he is raking in profits unheard of by farmers who grow paddy and wheat.
“Nearly 32,000 plants can be grown on each acre of land. Each plant, on an average, costs Rs 6 or Rs 7. Add to each plant the cost of labour, sprays and the charges of land lease land and in the final analysis, an investment of Rs 10 is made (per plant). This means I have to invest Rs 3.2 lakh per acre. It is on this investment that I make Rs 12 lakh, which means I reap a profit of nearly Rs 9 lakh an acre,” he said.
Agriculture experts opine that raking in Rs 18 lakh from just two acres of land is a financially much more viable proposition as compared to traditional paddy-wheat growing farmers who, after incurring all expenditure, make just Rs 80,000 from one acre in a year.
The fruit is transplanted from September 15 till October 15 and it starts ripening in February and goes on till April. The Verma family markets the final produce in neighbouring cities like Amritsar, Jammu and Pathankot.
The young farmer has no qualms about quitting boxing at a time when he was beginning to make a mark on the national circuit. “I had a promising career ahead. But for some inexplicable reason, strawberry farming just fascinated me no end. I want to become a pioneer in this trade in the Majha region,” he averred.
Now, the youth has his aim set on exporting the fruit to Dubai where it commands three times more price than what he gets here.