27-year-old farmer earns Rs15 lakh per acre with grape farming; harvests 30 tonnes per acre

Karthik Gowda, an engineering dropout, uses the grafting method for grape farming over 6 acres in Hoskote near Bengaluru. It gives record-high yields (more than double the national average) and black seedless varieties sell at Rs100 per kg

Rashmi Pratap
New Update
Karthik Gowda at his farm in Hoskote near Bengaluru

Karthik Gowda at his farm in Hoskote near Bengaluru

Karthik Gowda had to drop out of engineering after his uncle passed away in 2017. His father needed help on the farm in Banahalli village, Hoskote taluk, of the Bengaluru Rural district where the family grows grapes and vegetables. 

“After my uncle's demise, my father wanted me to work on the farm. So I quit studies upon completing two years of engineering,” says Karthik, now 27.

Instead of replicating what his father and uncle were doing, the youngster researched on more profitable farming methods and learned about newer table grape varieties and grafting. “My father and uncle were growing the Bangalore Blue and Dilkhush varieties of grapes. But the yield was low in Bangalore Blue,” he says.

So Karthik removed the plantation of Bangalore Blue and replaced it with Krishna and Sharad varieties. Dilkhush is a green grape with seeds, while Krishna and Sharad are black seedless grapes. Once planted, grape vines give fruit for 20 to 25 years.

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“The other thing I did was to expand the cultivation of grapes from 4 acres to 6 acres. Then I decided to minimize the use of chemicals and shift to organic farming over time,” he says.

Now seven years later, Karthik harvests 30 tonnes of Dilkhush grapes per acre and the number for Krishna and Sharad varieties is 15 tonnes per acre every season. This is much higher than the national average yield of 9 tonnes per acre. 

Harvesting of Dilkhush grapes underway

According to the National Horticulture Board data for FY24, grapes were cultivated over 171,000 hectares across India and the production was 3,781 metric tonnes, an average of 22.11 tonnes per hectare or around 9 tonnes per acre.

How to get bumper grape yields

To prepare the land, Karthik added a lot of cow dung to the soil. “We need to plough deeply so that the plant roots can go deeper. The deeper the root of the mother plant, the higher the quality and quantity of the crop. While planting, the pit must be at least 75 cm or 30 inches deep,” he says. 

For high yield in grape farming, Karthik uses the grafting method, which joins the rootstock from one plant and the shoot from the scion plant (the variety to be grown). Rootstock is the lower portion of the graft, which develops a large root system that can support grape vines. The scion is the upper part that yields fruits.

“We use rootstocks of strong and disease-resistant plants that can also withstand salinity and drought. They increase production and ensure the health and survival of the vines. I bought the rootstocks from Maharashtra at Rs 10 to Rs12 per piece,” Karthik says.

After planting, the rootstocks grow to about 1.5 feet above the soil in six months. “We have to apply cow dung, manure and other biofertilizers to ensure their optimum health and growth. All the leaves of rootstocks are removed before grafting. We take the scion of the variety we want to grow, like Dilkhush or Krishna, and put it on the rootstock,” he explains.

The scion pieces are cut to fit a V-shaped notch made on either side of the rootstock. “I obtained scions from farmers in Karnataka who have been growing good quality grapes for years. They did not charge for the scions,” he says.

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The rootstock and scion are tied with a cloth and allowed to grow for the next one year. “During this time, we put cow dung, NPK and micronutrients at various stages. Then after 1.5 years, we need to do pruning from the top so that buds can open,” he says.

In about 40 to 45 days, they get pollinated and after that, it takes three months for fruits to develop. “Berries will start growing bigger and change colour depending on the variety. In 120 days, they are ready for harvest,” Karthik says.

The total time from planting the rootstock to first harvest is two years. 

The first yield is not high as the plant is still growing and gaining strength but from the second year, farmers get good crops. 

Record-high production of grapes

“For the Dilkhush variety, I harvested 30 tonnes per acre and sold them at Rs 50 per kg last season. Seedless black grape Krishna sold at Rs 100 per kg (yield was 15 tonnes per acre) while the market price was Rs90 per kg for the Sharad variety as well,” he says.

At the above rates, Karthik’s per acre income works out to Rs15 lakh – 30,000 kg of Dilkhush X Rs50 per kg = Rs 15,00,000. 

It is about the same for the other two seedless black grape varieties where the yield is lower but the market price is higher.

Investment in stone/concrete trellis is around Rs4 lakh per acre.   

Investment and spacing

The plant-to-plant as well as row-to-row gap in Dilkhush is 10 feet but the seedless varieties require a little less space. “The plant-to-plant gap is 4 feet and row-to-row is 9 feet because seedless grapes grow slow while Dilkhush grows fast,” he says.

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The major investment in grape farming is in setting up trellis as vines need support for climbing up. 

“We set up trellis when we are planting rootstalk and in one acre, the cost is around Rs 4 lakh or around Rs500 per pole. We use stone to make trellis and they last forever,” Karthik adds.

While about 70 percent of the inputs are organic, Karthik uses some medicines to prevent leaf diseases, especially due to rains. “I practice residue-free farming, where the use of bio fertilisers and biocides is below the level that can cause harm to humans. This is ensured by maintaining a gap between spraying and harvesting. We don’t spray any chemicals after fruit formation,” he explains.

On separate 4 acres, Karthik also grows vegetables from June to January. “We grow bitter gourd, snake gourd, tomato, broccoli and brinjal apart from Ragi. I have also planted pomegranates over four acres. About half of the plants have started yielding fruits while others are new plants,” he adds.

(Rashmi Pratap is a Mumbai-based journalist specialising in business, financial, and socio-economic reporting)

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