Today many farmers in different parts of the country are taking up contract farming of baby corn on behalf of food processing companies. The companies supply the farmers with high quality inputs - including hybrid seeds - besides cultivation knowhow. The harvested crop is then bought from the farmers at a predetermined price. This crop is processed and then mainly exported to the overseas market. With a market for their produce assured and an estimated net income of Rs 16,000 per acre farmers are finding baby corn an attractive crop to cultivate.
Baby corn cultivation is a recent development. It was Thailand in the early 1970s that first seriously started cultivating this crop for exports. Later other countries like Guatemala, Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa started cultivation. Today Thailand and China are the world leaders in baby corn production. The growth of baby corn exports from Thailand has been amazing. From 67 tonnes worth U.S.$38,059 in 1974 their exports had risen to 3676 tonnes worth of U.S.$ 33 million in 1992.
In India its cultivation is only now picking up in a serious way in Meghalaya, Western UP, Haryana, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. Now leading private sector companies in India like Advanta Limited are offering hybrid baby corn seeds. The cultivation technique has also now been more or less standardised.
At the moment opportunities for baby corn appear to exist mostly in export market. Few companies -like Namdari Seeds - are selling fresh baby corn at retail food outlets like Food World in Bangalore. But many insiders say that a market for baby corn has still not developed within India.Urban customers in India are still not willing to pay the price that makes it viable for these processing companies to invest in expensive processing and preservation technology. Therefore it is the export markets that is currently attractive.So farmers intending to take up baby corn cultivation must try and get in touch with companies which are exporting baby corn and see whether they can take up contract farming on behalf of the companies. This way the problem of marketing baby corn is taken care off since the company will "buy back" their produce at a fixed price.There are many food processing companies getting into exports of baby corn. Some of them like IQF Foods, Bangalore, have set up state of the art processing units to export canned fruits and vegetables inclusive of Baby Corn to Western Europe and North American countries. For this purpose they are going in for contract farming in and around Bangalore. The company would be supplying all necessary inputs for these growers, including Baby Corn seeds. Each farmer would cultivate around 2 acres. The investments per
farmer would be around Rs 4000 per acre. The expected yield will be anywhere between 700 -1400 kg per acre depends on the care taken by the farmer. The end produce will be purchased by IQF for anywhere between Rs 5-9 per kg. (IQF is negotiating for Rs 5 per kg). The baby corn will be cleaned and individual quick frozen. This will give the product a shelf life of upto 2 years! The end product is expected to fetch around US$900/tonne. In this freight alone would be around US$300/tonne. So the effective price the company will get is around US$600 or Rs 25,000/tonne.
Baby corn production generally requires the cultivation practices recommended for normal corn production, except that the crop cycle or duration is only about 60 days as compared to the 110-120 days duration of the grain crop. Here is a quick look at some of the main requirements.
Economics of baby corn
Soil : Well drained, sandy loam to silty loam soils are best suited for baby corn cultivation. It can also be grown in well drained black soils.
Season : June-July, October-November and January-February sowings are recom-mended.
Seeds per acre : 15 - 16 Kg per acre (Hybrid / Composite / Good varieties)
Land preparation :The land must be deep ploughed once and the soil must be worked up with a harrow and then a cultivator to bring it to a fine filth and to minimise weed problem. Apply the well decomposed FYM and mix it well with soil by running a cultivator. Land must then be laid out into ridges 40-45 cm apart.
Sowing :Seeds must be sown as 15-17.5 cm distance on one side of the ridge. Plant 2 seeds per hill and then there would be approximately 90,000 - 100,000 estab-lished plants per acre.
Fertiliser application : 4 MT of FYM (Farm Yard Manure) per acre should be applied 30 days before sowing. A basal dose of 20 Kg per acre of Nitrogen, 30 Kg per acre of Phosphorous and 30 Kg per acre of Potash should be applied. Subsequently, 20 Kg per acre of Nitrogen should be applied between 25 and 30 days and another 20 Kg per acre of Nitrogen should be applied 45 days of sowing. The above fertiliser recommendation would vary depending on rainfall and local agro-climatic conditions. Weed control : Spraying Simazine Atrazine at the rate of 2.5 kg (for sandy loam) to 3 kg (for black soil) dissolved in 750 litres of water on the soil on the day of sowing or the next day after irrigation.
Plant Protection : Baby Corn is a 60 days crops and thus chances of being infested by pests and diseases is less but any attack by pest and disease would reduce the plant's ability to grow and hence reduce yield. Thus preventive measures are always recommended.
Detasseling :Detasseling is an essential operation in the cultivation of baby corn. It is done by removing the tassel of the plant as soon as it emerges from the flag leaf and before it starts shedding pollen grains. If this is not done, Baby Corn can get pollinated and the quality gets affected.
Harvesting : For better quality baby cobs harvesting is done when the cobs are 8-10 cm long, 1-1.5 cm in diameter and weigh 7-8 g. Harvesting can begin when the first silk has emerged about 0.5-1 cm. Subsequently, second and third harvest can be done. If silk grows older and longer the quality of the cob deteriorates. First picking of the cobs can be done 45-50 days after planting depending on the variety, followed by further 3-4 pickings on alternate days. The fresh cobs with husks must be sent to the market immediately to avoid weight loss.
Given below is a estimate of the cost and returns farmers can expect from baby corn cultivation. These figures are bound to vary depending on the variety grown, place of cultivation and the care taken.
Economics of baby corn cultivation : per acre for the farmer.
||Cost per unit
||Total cost in Rs.
|Land Preparation Tractor hiring
|Harvesting (6 pickings)
|Transportation & Miscellaneous
Returns Yield of cobs with husk (average yield) -- 4000 kgs
Procurement price from the farmer -- Rs.5 per kilo
Total income from cobs 20,000
Income from green fodder 2,000
Total income 22,000
Net income for the farmer Rs.15,955 or approx Rs 16,000/acre