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  1. #1
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    What's on your farm/small holding?

    I was going to start a thread about our experiences on the small holding we have this year. However, that wouldn't be enough for a thread so I thought it best to throw it open to the forum to share their experiences as well. There's plenty of diversity here in Thailand and we might be able to give each other some ideas.

    Anyway, I live in a pretty rural part of Isaan in Sakon Nakhon province, Terry did a thread on his trip to the city a few years back. They have made the main road to the village concrete now but the road to the farm is still dirt track.

    What's on your farm/small holding?-rural_isaan_3909-jpg

    We are outside the reservoir catchment areas and it has been single season rice for years and years with heavy clay soil that is difficult to plough if too dry or too wet...meaning most of the time. The dirt track above has an underground river below it and I've seen a crater open up and swallow one of the teacher's cars a few years ago, about where that car is now.

    About three years ago they put power along the road and this had led to people being able to use deep well pumps to irrigate small areas of land. There isn't enough water to grow a second season of rice but it is possible to use some land for additional crops. In 2020, following the start of Covid, I was here for 3 months and wasn't sure if I would be able to get back for the foreseeable future. We decided to dig a deep well and fit a pump and see what we could grow. To start with I was interested in using the land to grow for the family with a mixture of vegetables to keep us going. However, things brightened up and we returned leaving the family with the ability to grow a small amount of crops in the dry season.

    Cucumber was their choice of cash crop and they did pretty well growing them. However, crop rotation is not something they really know about here, since they've only really grown rice in the same fields year after year. It took three crops in a row in the same field before they understood what I was talking about. The problem was, however, what to grow that would make a small amount of money for them. My suggestions to rotate with beans and root crops met with disdain because the effort was too much for little gain. In the dry season it takes some real incentive to do anything, let alone grow crops for seemingly little benefit.

    Over a few glasses of wine, I suggested they try growing flowers, African Marigolds, because I know they are reasonably easy to grow and good for the soil. She phoned around and found a supplier that could provide plants and provide a market for the flowers. It sounded good so she had 6000 plants delivered in November to cover about 1.5 Rai of land and see how well they did.

    ...

  2. #2
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    We arrived back in Thailand at the end of November and after repairs and cleanup had a look to see how the plants were doing in early December...

    What's on your farm/small holding?-early_days_8dec_3167-jpg

    The plants didn't look too bad but they lost quite a few due to ants and the heat, the wife said about 1000 were lost, which I thought was enough to lose any chance of breaking even on the venture. That's me the pessimist when it comes to outlaying any money on farming in Thailand. I would have preferred the land to have been treated with lime firm to increase the ph (it's about 4.5- 5) and reduce the ants (they don't like high ph soil). However, this takes time and there isn't enough time to treat properly.

    What's on your farm/small holding?-support_poles_3905-jpg

    Just before Christmas, the plants had started to flower and the real work began. The weight of the flowers will topple the plants unless they are supported. BIL is out early morning to start putting in the bamboo canes to support cheap nylon string that can be used to tie between each of the plants to support them...

    What's on your farm/small holding?-support_string_4052-jpg

    This is very labour intensive work...

    What's on your farm/small holding?-support_string_jd_4055-jpg

    ...and it's very hot in the open fields...

    What's on your farm/small holding?-support_string_4067-jpg

    ... however labour is cheap and we have an extended family to help out.
    Last edited by Troy; 15-01-2022 at 08:30 AM.

  3. #3
    Thailand Expat AntRobertson's Avatar
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    Nice, looks plenty there to keep you occupied.

    I barely even have a garden anymore so can't contribute.

  4. #4
    Thailand Expat
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    Attachment 81260

    Early January and the flowers were ready to pick. However, there was a slight hiccup as the company wouldn't come until the following week and these blooms would be too old by then. I explained this to the wife who went on the internet to find other buyers. She managed to get someone to come and pick 5000 and we thought this would be enough to cater for the late arrival of our main buyer. The flowers have to be picked after the early morning dew and before the main sun, a window between 9am - 11 am and then again 3pm - 5pm.

    Attachment 81262

    Picking is also labour intensive, as is the sorting and bagging.

    Attachment 81263

    Sorting according to size, with different value for each size. For this we checked the sizes on the internet and I created cardboard templates for sorting. Not having a pair of compasses, I had to search around the kitchen for different sized mugs and containers to suit. Later, we bought blue plastic boards to use as templates but I'll make up some better ones in the future if we decide to grow again.

    Attachment 81264

    With the blooms sorted and bagged, there was an hour or two spare to relax and wait for the buyer. The lady who came was quite impressed with our crop and gave some further advice on when to pick and the sizes required. She ordered another 5000 for two days later as she thought many would be too old for the main buyer.

    In the end, the main buyer didn't turn up the following week; they said they needed 40,000 blooms to be ready in a day for them to make the trip. Such an order just isn't possible for such a small area and with a small labour force. We found another buyer, 200 kg at B20/kilo and the first lady bought another 10,000. As we were picking for her, another buyer that was driving round stopped by and ordered 30kg at the same B20/kilo and all have given phone numbers for more orders next week. In the end, we have managed to get back the initial outlay of the irrigation equipment and the plants in this one growing season and have ploughed a new field ready to grow cucumbers.

    The family have more or less moved out of the village now and onto the farm. They'll move back when the rains come.

    Attachment 81265

    This is the shack and stable where they were living during the farming...

    Attachment 81268

    ...and this is their new place, further along with the cows...

    Attachment 81272

    ...and a few pigs...

    Attachment 81275

    They would like a replacement for the Lot Thai, which must be 25 years old now. I have been toying with getting a tractor, but I don't know if it is worth it for just 15 rai of land. The heavy clay suggests they need something in the 50hp range and I quite fancy a New Holland TT4.55 but can't justify the outlay, at least not until I have retired here.


    If we can find some reliable buyers then I think marigolds are a good addition to the crop rotation. I still want them to grow cassava in a couple of lie after the flowers and then back to cucumbers but we shall see...

    The other big problem is getting them to compost instead of burning. IIt doesn't matter how many times I start it off they make excuses for not doing it. I will have to wait until I retire before composting will be viable and this will make the soil so much better in much less time. Now they have electricity, it would be nice to get a good composting machine to make it easier and more efficient. I know they have them in Australia but haven't seen any imports to Thailand.
    Last edited by Troy; 15-01-2022 at 09:28 AM.

  5. #5
    Thailand Expat AntRobertson's Avatar
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    Those pics aren't showing for me?

  6. #6
    Thailand Expat
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    One thing's for sure, the locals will never starve...they can eat anything and everything...

    What's on your farm/small holding?-lunch_3712-jpg

    ...and a picnic in the rice fields is always fun...

    What's on your farm/small holding?-party_3722_02-jpg

  7. #7
    Thailand Expat
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    ^^ Nor me but they are there when I click on the attachment. Also if I try and edit they are showing...

    ...did I put too many in one post? Any ideas how to fix, anyone?

  8. #8
    Thailand Expat armstrong's Avatar
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    They work when I click on them.

    Great pics!

  9. #9
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    I'm very envious Troy, I would love some more land. We have just run out of space here... we have in no way a small holding but just a few residential plots tagged together. It's enough to supply us with eggs and fish, and a few veggies and fruit when in season.

    I was about to ask how much land you have in total, but I see you mentioned 15 rai in a later post? Is that enough to make a living from for you and the family or is it to supplement other income and more of a hobby? Can you support a small labour force year round or do the workers also work elsewhere? Just curious really.

  10. #10
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    Great thread idea Troy.

    That flower operation looks impressive.

    We bought a small piece of land in the village last winter. I am looking forward to getting back to see it for myself.

    My wife and I plan to do a bit of hobby farming for fun and also for family. So hopefully in a month I can post some updates when I get back.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mendip View Post
    I was about to ask how much land you have in total, but I see you mentioned 15 rai in a later post? Is that enough to make a living from for you and the family or is it to supplement other income and more of a hobby? Can you support a small labour force year round or do the workers also work elsewhere? Just curious really.
    It was just enough land to support a small family with rice for the year with some spare in good years for sale. It wasn't enough to support a family without additional working, which is not easy to find here. The usual thing is for the children to go down to Bangkok to work and send money home each month to look after their children and for the main farmers to find seasonal work anywhere when it's not rice season. However, Covid has meant that anyone that isn't working full time in a decent company is out of work.

    When I eventually finish working in Europe, I will have some savings and a small monthly income. It should b enough to live on but it would mean that I can't help the wife's family as much as I do now. That's not everyday living, but when there's an emergency, and there have been several of those lately with Covid, Cancer and Heart conditions being the major ones.

    Many, many, moons ago I worked in nurseries growing different vegetables and I earnt quite a lot of pocket money making garden plots and growing allotment vegetables. It was actually a great fitness routine in my youth cycling around the neighbourhood and digging vegetable plots in the autumn. Anyway, I thought I'd put some of my past skills to use, although it's too hot here for me to work hard I can give some advice and help out with the business end.

    With the additional of the water pumps we should be able to support 10 people with occasional work for others when needed.

  12. #12
    CCBW Stumpy's Avatar
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    Great Thread Troy. Like Mendy, we purchased a few plots around us to give us a nice place to spread out but nothing to really farm like you are.

  13. #13
    Thailand Expat
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    We set up a small shack next to the field for flower sorting to make it easier for the pickers...

    What's on your farm/small holding?-sorting_4368-jpg

    Although I did help with putting in the support canes and string, picking was out for me and the other old folk. It's just too hot and back crippling, bent over all the time. I stuck to sorting and bagging and even that was hard work 5-6 hours a day.

    What's on your farm/small holding?-bagged_4384-jpg

    It's 100 to a bag for the sorted ones and the buyer is not the end user. These people travel around from grower to grower to supply their customers and sell extras in the markets in the city. It takes a bit of negotiating and running around when one buyer drops out and you need to find another quickly. So far we have been fortunate but I would like a larger number of possible buyers and, ideally, at least one end user or city market to supply if we were to do this on a regular basis.

    I do love these flowers though....

    What's on your farm/small holding?-flowers_4390-jpg

  14. #14
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    Those photos in #4 don't appear on my mobile and one fails on my laptop so I'll try again with them...

    What's on your farm/small holding?-ready_4372-jpg

    What's on your farm/small holding?-picking_4420-jpg

    What's on your farm/small holding?-sorting_4238-jpg

  15. #15
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    ...that's better, must have been too many in one post...

    What's on your farm/small holding?-waiting_buyer_4394-jpg

    What's on your farm/small holding?-shack_and_stable_3174-jpg

    What's on your farm/small holding?-second_shack_4083-jpg

    What's on your farm/small holding?-cow_4076-jpg

    What's on your farm/small holding?-pigs_3158-jpg

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by Troy View Post
    It was just enough land to support a small family with rice for the year with some spare in good years for sale.
    Good idea for a thread Troy, i used to like the Isaan Farmers thread.

    Given the size of the land have you considered purchasing more? paddy land is relatively cheap and usually denuded but can be rehabilitated with time and a bit of investment to turn it into some land viable enough for green etc.

    The trouble is most farmers simply keep throwing fertiliser at the problem of soil fertility rather than addressing the condition of the soil, which i get as if you are poor you cannot afford to have fallow land not earning for you and take time to invest in improving it.

  17. #17
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    I don't see a business case for a tractor or for more land at the moment. The addition of the water pumps is a start and I'd like to see some money being made. The main problem is supply and demand with a range of crops that can improve the soil. It's a long way to a good market and easy to lose any profit in transport.

    The soil could be improved over about 5 years but that won't happen unless I am here permanently. You can't teach new ways overnight.

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by Troy View Post
    but that won't happen unless I am here permanently. You can't teach new ways overnight.
    it was with your oversight i was thinking. If left to Thais they would probably never consider it, would give you some interest in retirement..

  19. #19
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    ^ Well there's always a possibility, we'll see. No-one has ever grown marigolds in our area before. BIL and his wife did really well and worked hard. The wife learnt most of the stuff from the Internet and grabbed labour as and when necessary.
    I got a couple of panic jobs but overall it was fun...we have another order of 200kg for Monday, wife has brought round more relatives (potential helpers) for dinner.

  20. #20
    Thailand Expat David48atTD's Avatar
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    Troy, thanks heaps for sharing.

    Great thread, looking forward to the updates.

  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by Troy View Post
    BIL and his wife did really well and worked hard. The wife learnt most of the stuff from the Internet and grabbed labour as and when necessary.
    And this is the pay off, being able to bring a different perspective, drive and new ideas - should be quite exciting.

    We are looking at expanding the fruit farming, Mrs just bought another 10 Rai of orchard in Chan and will turn it over to Durian from mainly mangosteen.

    Well dome Mrs Troy.

  22. #22
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    Nice Thread Troy, Thank you for sharing.
    We are here in Khon Kaen and are enjoying Issan living, but not the roosters and barking dogs. So far I have not been very successful with my gardening. I have a friend in the are who would say to me, " Here in Thailand , you put a stick in the ground and it grows" for me it seems to work the opposite. I put a plant in the ground and it turns into a stick LOL
    The sooner you fall behind, the more time you have to catch up.

  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by Troy View Post
    In the end, the main buyer didn't turn up the following week; they said they needed 40,000 blooms to be ready in a day for them to make the trip.
    Very interesting thread and pics, a little bit of imagination and organisation can make a big difference.

    There is a large plot near me on their third, back-to-back cassava planting. I wonder how many times they can do that without a failure.

    Your point about the main buyer is a key one. Middlemen (and women) are total coonts and screw over the Isan farmers all the time. A few years back at a friend's village the big idea was some herb used in making a natural medicine for treating erectile dysfunction. One farmer got the idea from a broker and the payoff was going to be massive so all the other farmers there planted the same thing. Come harvest time the broker came back and said that since the harvest was so plentiful he could only offer 10% of what he'd promised. The farmers had a single customer and no idea how to offload their harvest elsewhere. They were totally stitched up. For long term success it is really important to have multiple channels to market and preferably different types of custmers who will use the flowers in different ways, probably people going to temples want large and perfect blooms while people crushing them for dye can take the next quality.

    I'll be fascinated to hear how the farming progresses. I do admire the people who can do it. I watched some locals hand planting rice, bent over in the fields all day long in that heat. I couldn't do it. Really, it would not be physically possible for me. You deserve your success.

  24. #24
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    ^ You make several good points shutree and this has been a good exercise in management for the wife and her BIL.

    I was not happy in a single buyer and even less happy when I heard they were coming late and not planned regular visits. However it was the interim buyer that explained it better to the wife about how the plants will have multiple pickings and the blooms should be picked before they become too old. In the end we have had 4 separate buyers, two buying according to size, with best prices, and two on a per kilo basis. The former get the quality blooms.

    When the BIL first hired workers, he left them to it with little supervision. Luckily I arrived with the wife in time to organise and help out. It is very important the wife and I help out, they like knowing we can do each of the jobs we ask of them. We can judge when it's too hot and a break is needed and when to have a party to lighten the mood. Picking 200kg of flowers has to be appreciated as being jolly hard work when it's 100F in the shade.

    One other point is ensuring you keep your customer happy so you obtain repeat orders. The talk was to make the template sizes a bit smaller and to pick early morning for the dew to add weight. I quashed both ideas as silly; you may get an extra buck or two but only once...stay honest and those extra bucks will roll in all by themselves.

  25. #25
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    Quote Originally Posted by Shutree View Post
    Your point about the main buyer is a key one. Middlemen (and women) are total coonts and screw over the Isan farmers all the time.
    Co-operatives are sometimes a good answer to this but i'd imagine that would not be an easy ask in Thailand.

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