“I went into farming because I saw agriculture as an important pillar of our economy.”
When he decided to move on to greener pastures, Jerome Ragavan meant that quite literally. With a background in engineering and management; having worked for close to 30 years in the semiconductor manufacturing industry, Jerome didn’t seem like the type of person who’d get into agriculture. However, when his company decided to close down its operations in Malaysia, he was left with two choices – to continue in the industry he was most familiar with or branching out in a totally new direction – farming.
His desire to utilise the skills and knowledge he gained from his time spent in the semiconductor manufacturing industry inspired him to the idea of starting a farm. After months of research, he set up a farm with a partner in Mantin, Negeri Sembilan back in June, 2014.
“I wanted to utilize my skills and knowledge in something that I would have the satisfaction of building from scratch – something I could call my own.”
“Farming was something totally new to me with a lot of variables I wasn’t familiar with. But the more I did it, the more I found that it was very similar to the manufacturing industry. Instead of producing semiconductors, I was producing vegetables,” said Jerome when comparing farming with his previous work experience.
“You need similar disciplines and processes in place. Data collection and analysis, manufacturing technology, scheduling, and cost control among others. All these things are extremely similar in the electronics industry, or any industry for that matter. A farm is a factory, a food factory,” he added.
Though farming isn’t without any challenges and having started off with conventional fertigation and an in-ground-planting farm, Jerome realised the method wasn’t very cost efficient as it required a lot of manpower and the wastage of water and fertiliser. He also hit a hurdle when he ended his partnership in 2016 which was when he decided to utilise hydroponics.
“When my partner and I had different ideas for the business, we ended the partnership and I was left with thinking about how to do things differently,” he recalled.
“Together with my cousin, we brainstormed and we decided that hydroponics was something that fit the bill, that matched what I was looking at in the longer term for farming. Mainly to reduce wastage and manpower,” said Jerome regarding his move from conventional farming to hydroponics.
“I think I’m still on the journey as far as hydroponics is concerned. What hydroponics lends itself well to is using technology, more advanced technology.”
Commenting on the use of digital technology in farming, Jerome has this to say – “There’s a big potential for farm automation and utilising the Internet of Things (IoT) at a farm. In the future, you would be able to have a farm that feeds you with information. You’d be able to monitor your farm from anywhere. And in the future maybe even control the farm itself”.
Jerome’s efforts hasn’t gone unnoticed as his work with hydroponics is unique in that he is one of the very few lowland hydroponic farmers in the country and has gained the attention of the Ministry of Agriculture. He also works with University Putra Malaysia (formerly known as University Pertanian Malaysia) and the Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (MARDI) in an effort to further develop hydroponic farming.
“There’s a lot of hydroponic farmers in Cameron Highlands and even though the cost of their technology is on the higher side, Cameron Highlands produces high value crops that offset that cost.” To set himself apart from other hydroponic farmers, Jerome specialises in ‘low cost hydroponics’.
Aside from selling his crops, Jerome also sells nutrient mixes and compact home hydroponic kits for those who are interested in growing their own produce. He also plans on eventually opening up his farm to visitors.
“At the end of the day, what I hope to achieve is to show that hydroponics is the future of farming mainly because it is more sustainable. I have put in my money and effort to create an innovative way of farming which I believe can contribute towards the nation’s self-sufficiency. A new way of farming that’s modern, cost-efficient, sustainable, healthy and pesticide free.”