Photo Essay: Field Notes From a Dairy Farm

The authors spent a day at Akshayakalpa and saw the workings of the organic farm.

By Srushti Paranjpe, Ananya Revanna and Manjunatha G

Akshayakalpa is a well-established name in the organic milk sector and has over 600 farmers following its model, which aims to better the quality of milk while keeping animal welfare in mind. The model helps farmers earn an average of Rs. 1 lakh per month in gross revenue from dairy alone.

The organisation is now trying to create a replicable farming model that focuses on making small agriculturalists more self-sufficient by increasing water efficiency, improving soil health, and ensuring zero waste.

To understand how these models work, we visited Akshayakalpa organic farms in Tiptur, Tumakuru district, in southern Karnataka. Take a virtual stroll through the 24-acre farm with this photo essay:

A successful dairy model

Akshayakalpa has over the past decade cemented its dairy model. One of the pillars of this model is that the cows must not be free-range, as they may consume non-nutritious and potentially harmful matter like lantana and parthenium (or even garbage), which affects the quality of the milk. The cows are kept in a paddock, separated by breed and stage of milking. Their feed, which primarily includes fodder plants, is placed on one side of the paddock, along with easily accessible tubs of clean water. The well-ventilated paddock is designed to give the cows access to shade, good food, clean water, and space to move. While they are kept in a paddock, they are never tied. This model is in place to promote animal welfare and increase productivity of the cows.

The feeding area is accessible from the paddock. The feed seen here is a mix of different fodder grasses and natural supplements; no antibiotics or synthetic additives are given. Cattle egrets are seen in plenty around the paddock. They share a commensal relationship with the cows, feeding on the ticks and mites that live as parasites on the cows.

In the Akshayakalpa dairy model, only milking machines are used; milking by hand is not allowed. It claims that this reduces the transmission of pathogens from hand to milk and keeps the milk uncontaminated. It provides a cost-effective milking machine for farmers who can’t afford such high-end technology.

Bales of fodder grass are regularly shredded and stored in large pits. Fodder is harvested from the farm and shredded when it’s fresh. Akshayakalpa farmers are mandated to allot a part of their land for fodder grass to ensure their cattle is fed organic grass.

Akshayakalpa uses the balloon model for generating biogas, which mainly consists of methane, carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide. These gases are produced from the organic waste matter generated on the farm. This facility produces enough biogas to run the farm’s kitchen.

Slurry is a byproduct of the biogas generation process, and is used as fertiliser in the farm. According to Akshayakalpa, usage of slurry has doubled soil productivity.

One-acre organic farming

Akshayakalpa is currently trying two types of farming models that can be used to grow vegetables and fruits: the raised bed and sunken bed models. Both models have shown a remarkable improvement in productivity from the average national horticultural productivity, which is 50g/sq.ft./year, to 1,200g/sq.ft./yr in these beds.

In the raised bed model, two-feet tall beds, lined with Kadappa tiles, are filled with a 3:2:1:1 mixture of tank bed soil, red soil, charcoal and compost respectively. Kadappa stone is used because of its strength; farmers will not have to worry about any weathering in the long run. This model was developed specifically for the hard soil in this region. The soil in the beds can be brought in from elsewhere if the soil in the region isn’t fertile enough. After that, it can be nourished by adding compost.

There are walking areas in between the raised beds (the growing area), and the borders of the land are allocated to trees such as papaya and banana, which serve as wind breakers and income sources.

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The raised bed model is designed to be fully organic. Fertilisers like slurry and jeevamrutha (liquid mixture of cow dung, cow urine, jaggery and soil) are used. These beds are irrigated once every two to three days using sprinklers, and consume about 20 KL of water per acre. Green leafy vegetables and root vegetables are mostly grown in these beds, along with some climbers and creepers. These beds do not require de-weeding as there is continuous sowing and harvesting.

This model can be built on wastelands and land as small as one acre is enough to generate an average of 24 kg of daily harvest. It can provide an average gross revenue of Rs. 8 lakh per acre annually, while reducing the water footprint per kilo of production from 255 litres (the average for India) to 150 litres.

The sunken bed model is built on the same principles as the raised bed model. This design, however, is cheaper to implement as the cost of setting up is low. This model is also more water efficient since the loss of soil moisture by evaporation is reduced.

Akshayakalpa recently placed 45 bee boxes across the farm to help with pollination. They are currently not selling the honey but may in the future. The focus now is to build a healthy bee population that will aid agriculture.

It also has its own composting unit, which is fed by kitchen and farm waste. The compost is regularly mixed with the soil to maintain soil health.

Akshayakalpa has spent the last decade building its dairy model and hopes to make it profitable in the next few years. They have been successful in their herd management software and staying on top of data that comes in from its farmers daily, providing the option of paper notes for farmers who do not know how to use technology. They are also setting a good example of agrotourism, and building a sustainable ecosystem as the farm is a zero-discharge facility.

Some of the challenges they have faced are building a network of dairy farmers who are willing to follow all the guidelines, keeping them engaged so that they don’t sell milk to other companies, ensuring the milk is up to standard, securing timely financing, and getting consumers to understand their product pricing.

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Since its dairy model is replicable, Akshayakalpa wants to build a similar model for small-time farmers who are interested in multi-crop vegetable farming. The aim is to help farmers in semi-arid regions grow crops efficiently so that they are profitable. It hopes to roll out the model to farmers in the surrounding districts soon.

Anyone can go on an Akshayakalpa farm visit. Visit its website to make a booking.

This field visit was part of a journey mapping exercise of civil society organisations and was funded by the Rainmatter Foundation.

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