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Sow and tell: Out in the field with India’s farm influencers

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What’s it like being a celebrity farmer? One must be part entrepreneur, part tech wizard, influencer and guru. To their rural audience of other young farmers looking for hacks and help, India’s farm influencers are role models. To their urban viewers, they offer an inside view of the business of agriculture and help bust some really outdated stereotypes.

“When I say I’m a farmer, most city people seem to think of a young Sunil Dutt in the 1957 film Mother India, or someone who leaves at sunrise armed with ‘steel ke dibbe mein sukhi roti’ and toils in the field until sunset,” says Santosh Jadhav, 28, laughing.

They’re surprised to learn that Jadhav starts his day by auto-irrigating his fields with a tap on his smartphone, and that he works in the fields wearing track pants and sneakers.

Jadhav, who is from a family of farmers, started the YouTube channel Indian Farmer with mechanical engineer-turned-farmer Akash Jadhav, 27, in 2018. The channel now has 2.66 million followers, who tune in to see how the duo’s 11-acre farm in Sangli, Maharashtra (they grow mango, capsicum, tomato and sugarcane), is doing.

Nihal Jagtap, a former pharmacist, found his feet with help from YouTube videos and now pays it forward on Instagram, @niihaal23.

Many of the Indian Farmer posts are focused on software such as their crop monitoring system, which uses sensors to track wind speeds, soil moisture levels, temperature, light and rainfall, and issues updates as smartphone alerts. Popular videos also explain how solar-powered water pumps can help reduce costs, how mulching sheets can transform almost any surface into fertile soil, and how light traps for insects can be made at home.

It was videos like these that helped former pharmacist Nihal Jagtap find his feet on his family farm in Vita, Sangli. Meanwhile, in Sirsa, Haryana, Naresh Choudhary, the son of a wheat and pulses farmer, says it was the farm community that helped him learn how to run a dairy farm. In four years, he went from an interior designer in Delhi to a man with 60 head of cattle. He now pays it forward by posting tips “for other young Nareshes” on his YouTube channel, Saher Milky Land, which has 1.13 lakh subscribers.

The learning stage can be hard and humbling, says Jagtap, 27, laughing. He returned to his family farm in 2020, after pandemic-induced losses forced him to shutter his Ayurvedic medicine business in Goa. He thought cultivating ginger would be easy, he says. He asked for the use of a bit of his family’s 6.5-acre sugarcane farm, and planned to sell ginger powder to companies making Ayurvedic medicines. He suffered a loss of 2 lakh in his first year.

Naresh Choudhary, son of a wheat and pulses farmer, runs a dairy farm and owns 60 head of cattle. ‘I want to help other young Nareshes, the way people helped me,’ he says. His channel, Saher Milky Land, has 1.13 lakh subscribers.
Naresh Choudhary, son of a wheat and pulses farmer, runs a dairy farm and owns 60 head of cattle. ‘I want to help other young Nareshes, the way people helped me,’ he says. His channel, Saher Milky Land, has 1.13 lakh subscribers.

“It was all because I was ignorant, didn’t seek help, and underestimated the amount of work that goes into getting a good harvest,” says Jagtap. That’s when he started watching farming videos on channels such as Indian Farmer. “These videos motivated me to ask questions, use new technology and come up with creative solutions when I was faced with a problem.”

One such innovative solution was a so-called fertigation system that delivers nutrients through interconnected pipes across the field, at the flip of a switch. “It is much more effective than the traditional methods of manual application, reduces fertiliser wastage and speeds up root growth,” Jagtap says.

His family has since adopted his method and, in February, saw sugarcane yields go from the usual 90 tonnes to 130 tonnes an acre. Since last year, Jagtap has been posting videos of his hits and misses on Instagram (@niihaal23), “to help other second-generation farmers learn the ropes of this business”.

It’s not easy, though, juggling the demands of a farm with those of a following. A 10-minute video can take a whole day to shoot and produce. Research takes time. And at least a couple of hours must be allotted daily, to responding to questions and comments.

The payoffs are the rewarding sense of helping the community, and of course actual revenue. Choudhary, 35, whose only investment was a microphone worth 800, says he earns about 50,000 a month from his videos.

Indian Farmer’s Akash Jadhav and Santosh Jadhav make about 1.5 lakh a month for their videos, though they have upgraded their tech to two cameras, audio equipment, a mini-drone and two laptops with editing software. Their content has been so successful that they’re branching out, travelling around the country to document the stories of other farmers in Maharashtra, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab and Goa who are leveraging technology and doing things differently.

They’ve met farmers in Punjab who use crop stubble as compost instead of burning it and contributing to air pollution. They’ve talked to cooperatives in Nashik growing grapes, onions and tomatoes. “They were ambitious risk-takers and very community-driven,” Akash says.

Across the board, the problems are often common: getting bank loans approved, fighting the menace of monkeys and thrip infestations, not knowing what to do with a bad harvest.

The question he gets asked most, Choudhary says, is how to craft a project report to secure a bank loan. One of Indian Farmer’s most popular videos, meanwhile, shows how to build a makeshift alarm out of metal plates to prevents animals and birds from getting too close to crops.

When it comes to the urban audience, the goals are different. Awareness, of course, Akash says. But also, “to help change the perception of farmers as a naïve bunch of simpletons. We want people to see us as inventors, creators and successful businessmen.”

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What’s it like being a celebrity farmer? One must be part entrepreneur, part tech wizard, influencer and guru. To their rural audience of other young farmers looking for hacks and help, India’s farm influencers are role models. To their urban viewers, they offer an inside view of the business of agriculture and help bust some really outdated stereotypes.

“When I say I’m a farmer, most city people seem to think of a young Sunil Dutt in the 1957 film Mother India, or someone who leaves at sunrise armed with ‘steel ke dibbe mein sukhi roti’ and toils in the field until sunset,” says Santosh Jadhav, 28, laughing.

They’re surprised to learn that Jadhav starts his day by auto-irrigating his fields with a tap on his smartphone, and that he works in the fields wearing track pants and sneakers.

Jadhav, who is from a family of farmers, started the YouTube channel Indian Farmer with mechanical engineer-turned-farmer Akash Jadhav, 27, in 2018. The channel now has 2.66 million followers, who tune in to see how the duo’s 11-acre farm in Sangli, Maharashtra (they grow mango, capsicum, tomato and sugarcane), is doing.

Nihal Jagtap, a former pharmacist, found his feet with help from YouTube videos and now pays it forward on Instagram, @niihaal23.
Nihal Jagtap, a former pharmacist, found his feet with help from YouTube videos and now pays it forward on Instagram, @niihaal23.

Many of the Indian Farmer posts are focused on software such as their crop monitoring system, which uses sensors to track wind speeds, soil moisture levels, temperature, light and rainfall, and issues updates as smartphone alerts. Popular videos also explain how solar-powered water pumps can help reduce costs, how mulching sheets can transform almost any surface into fertile soil, and how light traps for insects can be made at home.

It was videos like these that helped former pharmacist Nihal Jagtap find his feet on his family farm in Vita, Sangli. Meanwhile, in Sirsa, Haryana, Naresh Choudhary, the son of a wheat and pulses farmer, says it was the farm community that helped him learn how to run a dairy farm. In four years, he went from an interior designer in Delhi to a man with 60 head of cattle. He now pays it forward by posting tips “for other young Nareshes” on his YouTube channel, Saher Milky Land, which has 1.13 lakh subscribers.

The learning stage can be hard and humbling, says Jagtap, 27, laughing. He returned to his family farm in 2020, after pandemic-induced losses forced him to shutter his Ayurvedic medicine business in Goa. He thought cultivating ginger would be easy, he says. He asked for the use of a bit of his family’s 6.5-acre sugarcane farm, and planned to sell ginger powder to companies making Ayurvedic medicines. He suffered a loss of 2 lakh in his first year.

Naresh Choudhary, son of a wheat and pulses farmer, runs a dairy farm and owns 60 head of cattle. ‘I want to help other young Nareshes, the way people helped me,’ he says. His channel, Saher Milky Land, has 1.13 lakh subscribers.
Naresh Choudhary, son of a wheat and pulses farmer, runs a dairy farm and owns 60 head of cattle. ‘I want to help other young Nareshes, the way people helped me,’ he says. His channel, Saher Milky Land, has 1.13 lakh subscribers.

“It was all because I was ignorant, didn’t seek help, and underestimated the amount of work that goes into getting a good harvest,” says Jagtap. That’s when he started watching farming videos on channels such as Indian Farmer. “These videos motivated me to ask questions, use new technology and come up with creative solutions when I was faced with a problem.”

One such innovative solution was a so-called fertigation system that delivers nutrients through interconnected pipes across the field, at the flip of a switch. “It is much more effective than the traditional methods of manual application, reduces fertiliser wastage and speeds up root growth,” Jagtap says.

His family has since adopted his method and, in February, saw sugarcane yields go from the usual 90 tonnes to 130 tonnes an acre. Since last year, Jagtap has been posting videos of his hits and misses on Instagram (@niihaal23), “to help other second-generation farmers learn the ropes of this business”.

It’s not easy, though, juggling the demands of a farm with those of a following. A 10-minute video can take a whole day to shoot and produce. Research takes time. And at least a couple of hours must be allotted daily, to responding to questions and comments.

The payoffs are the rewarding sense of helping the community, and of course actual revenue. Choudhary, 35, whose only investment was a microphone worth 800, says he earns about 50,000 a month from his videos.

Indian Farmer’s Akash Jadhav and Santosh Jadhav make about 1.5 lakh a month for their videos, though they have upgraded their tech to two cameras, audio equipment, a mini-drone and two laptops with editing software. Their content has been so successful that they’re branching out, travelling around the country to document the stories of other farmers in Maharashtra, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab and Goa who are leveraging technology and doing things differently.

They’ve met farmers in Punjab who use crop stubble as compost instead of burning it and contributing to air pollution. They’ve talked to cooperatives in Nashik growing grapes, onions and tomatoes. “They were ambitious risk-takers and very community-driven,” Akash says.

Across the board, the problems are often common: getting bank loans approved, fighting the menace of monkeys and thrip infestations, not knowing what to do with a bad harvest.

The question he gets asked most, Choudhary says, is how to craft a project report to secure a bank loan. One of Indian Farmer’s most popular videos, meanwhile, shows how to build a makeshift alarm out of metal plates to prevents animals and birds from getting too close to crops.

When it comes to the urban audience, the goals are different. Awareness, of course, Akash says. But also, “to help change the perception of farmers as a naïve bunch of simpletons. We want people to see us as inventors, creators and successful businessmen.”

Enjoy unlimited digital access with HT Premium

Subscribe Now to continue reading

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