March 05, 2012 00:00 By KWANCHAI RUNGFAPAISARN
Kashemsant Kiangsiri has turned what was a hobby into a successful hydro-farming business by cashing in on the health-conscious trend among Thai consumers and a growing demand for hydroponic vegetables.
“Eleven years ago, I took early retirement from the position of managing director of TIG Trading, a trading firm specialising in welding equipment and accessories. After retirement, I got a chance to join a training session in hydroponics hosted by King Mongkut’s Institute of Technology Lat Krabang. I started small-scale hydroponics farming as a hobby on my own 22-rai plot on Soi On Nut 17/1,” said Kashemsant, 64, managing director of ACK Hydro Farm.
Hydroponics is a method of growing plants using mineral nutrient solutions, in water, without soil.
ACK Hydro Farm is the country’s leading producer and distributor of agricultural products using state-of-the-art technology via a hydroponics system. All vegetables are grown inside greenhouses using the evaporative cooling system under the strict, internationally recognised Good Agricultural Practice quality controls.
Kashemsant said that 10 years ago, Thai consumers did not even know about hydroponic vegetables, which were limited to imports and available only at Villa Market, which sold them largely to expatriates.
He said the company started supplying its hydroponic vegetables to the supermarket at The Emporium in 2002.
The company’s Super Fresh-brand hydroponic vegetables are now available at major supermarkets and hypermarkets including Tops, Tesco Lotus, Big C, Foodland, Villa, Siam Paragon, Emporium and The Mall.
Kashemsant said that to cater to increasing domestic demand, the company in 2006 expanded its hydroponics farm to a 20-rai plot in Pad Riew district of Chachoengsao. The company also opened a hydroponics farm on an 80-rai plot in Pak Chong district of Nakhon Ratchasima two years ago.
“We are now able to produce about 100 tonnes of hydroponic vegetables monthly. However, we expect monthly capacity to increase to over 140 tonnes next year, driven by increasing demand among health-conscious people,” he said.
Pannida Kiangsiri, deputy managing director of ACK Hydro Farm, said about 70 per cent of its hydroponic vegetables are distributed to supermarkets, while the remaining 30 per cent are sold directly to hotels and restaurants.
Kashemsant said domestic demand for hydroponic vegetables for use in making salads has grown by more than 20 per cent per annum, thanks to increased awareness among the people and Thais’ increasingly healthy way of living.
“We are expanding our hydroponics farming portfolio to other crops, such as tomatoes, sweet pepper and herbs,” he said.
He added that ACK recently opened a new subsidiary, ACK Food Tech, to produce salad-related products such as dressings and croutons.
Kashemsant said the company is also looking for opportunities to set up hydroponics farms in potential markets in Asean in partnership with local farmers. It also wants to set up hydroponics farms in good locations near the borders of Thailand to trade its vegetables and fruits to potential markets in neighbouring countries.
“We would like to do hydroponic farming of Thai vegetables and export them to Europe in the near future,” he said.
Jan Doldersum, Asia chain manager of Netherlands-based Rijk Zwaan China Seed, which supplies seeds to ACK Hydro Farm, said the Dutch company breeds seeds and sells them to local farms in many markets around the world. It has a range of products with seeds for 28 crops.
“We have sold seeds in Thailand for 15 years. Our biggest seller – accounting for about 80 per cent of sales – is [seeds for] hydroponic lettuces, while another 20 per cent of sales is from the seeds of crops such as tomatoes, sweet peppers and cucumbers,” Doldersum said.