In this feature, we explored organic farming at Quan Fa Organic Farm with JJ (Business Development).
When Quan Fa founder Mr Liao Chuan Huat (Quan Fa) first started his farm, located at Lorong Serambi in 1979, it was originally a conventional vegetable farm that had yet to use organic farming methods. In 1998, during his visit to Taiwan, he was introduced to organic farming by local farmers. Then in 1999, after a visiting Japanese farmer taught him a unique Japanese composting technique, Mr Liao was convinced on the benefits of organic farming and subsequently converted his farm to an organic farm within a matter of months. Ever since then, the farm has been cultivating organically-grown vegetables for the large masses of Singaporeans. Over the years, Quan Fa has grown from a small organic vegetable retailer to one of the leading distributors of organic vegetables and fruits in Singapore today.
About the Farm
Quan Fa Organic Farm is a family-run operation, where Mr Liao Chuan Huat, his wife, Madam Eng Yock Kee, and their son, Jun Jie, personally see to the daily operations of the farm. The farm relies on field cultivation and uses soil-based organic farming methods to grow their crops. Despite the increasing challenges of the Singapore farming industry, Quan Fa Organic Farm has stuck to their beliefs and their mission of applying ecological agrarian methods of farming, abstaining from the use of pesticides and harmful fertilizers, to produce only the freshest food crop that is both nutritious and healthy. The farm currently occupies a 2 hectare plot on Murai Farmway, after having to relocate from their previous location at Lorong Serambi, which was slated for redevelopment for military use. The farm has a beautiful natural backdrop, which is an increasingly rare sight in highly-urbanised Singapore. We highly recommend Quan Fa for their fun and educational farm tours; great for family and school visits.
Organic Farming @ Quan Fa
Singapore currently does not have its own organic certification standards. Nevertheless, Quan Fa has been employing proper organic farming methods and is in the process of getting organic certification from Organic Agriculture Certification Thailand (ACT). Farming at Quan Fa is carried out without any synthetic and chemical fertilisers, herbicides, fungicides or pesticides. Instead, it relies on a combination of strategies to maximise productivity and quality of the crops, to minimise pests, weeds, diseases, wastage and pollution.
Compost is a key component of organic farming that allows for the elimination of synthetic pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Quan Fa’s compost system originated from a Japanese technique known as the Takahama Compost System. It uses a unique culturing medium that eliminates the odour of the decomposing raw materials. The medium subsequently produces a nutrient-rich organic debris; which deters the rate of damage caused by disease infection and insect infestation. The compost is used throughout the farm to condition dead soil back to its arable state, which eventually enhances and stimulates plant growth. Quan Fa’s eco-friendly compost provides nutrient rich soils from which highly nutritional and healthy produce is grown.
So how is Quan Fa’s compost made? Waste plant matter – from weeding, harvesting, processing, packaging and selling – is collected as raw materials for the compost together with sawdust and yeast. The compost piles are left for 3-6 months to enable the natural decomposition process by micro-organisms to occur. The compost piles are mixed and stirred occasionally. Over time, they become fine, odourless natural fertilisers, which are then distributed along the respectively crops, nurturing the soil and stimulating plant growth.
There is a reservoir at the farm that collects rainwater for irrigating the farm. Water from the reservoir is transported via pipes to the greenhouses and growing areas. Quan Fa uses automated drip and sprinkler irrigation systems, which help to reduce labour.
Pests like birds and insects are physically kept out of the growing area using netting that covers the greenhouses.
Yellow and blue sticky traps are placed throughout the growing area – close to the plants and at plant height – to catch insects that are attracted to the colour. Yellow traps attract insects such as whiteflies, fruit flies and winged aphids. Blue traps are for thrips.
Companion planting with a combination of herbs helps attract beneficial insects and repel pest insects. Different herbs will deter different types of pests.
Crop rotation not only helps replenish the soil with nutrients that were depleted by the previous crop, it also prevents the build-up of pathogens and pests that often occurs when only a single crop species is grown continuously. Each crop attracts different types of pests. By strategically rotating different types of crop species to be planted on a particular plot, it will confuse and distract potential pests and prevent their build up in a certain area. The pests will have to keep on searching for the crops that they like since the location of their preferred crop species is periodically changed.
The demand for the farm’s products has been growing every year and the local Asian vegetables grown at the farm are very popular among customers. The farm produces about 30 varieties of leafy greens, hard vegetables, herbs and fruits. Popular examples include chye sim (choi sum), xiao bai cai (baby bok choy), kai lan (chinese broccoli), nai bai (baby white bok choy), bayam (amaranth), kang kong (water spinach), and sweet potato leaves. Leafy greens take about 30 days to grow from seed to ready-to-harvest, while beans take about 45 days. Farm produce is harvested in the morning and delivered to the retail outlets within the same day to ensure that customers receive the freshest vegetables.
In addition to its own produce, the farm also distributes a range of other organic fruits and vegetables imported from organic farms in Malaysia, Thailand and Australia. The freshness of imported produce from the foreign farms is maintained through a quick delivery process, via air delivery (Thailand, Australia) or via refrigerated trucks (Cameron Highlands, Malaysia). The imported produce will generally reach retail shelves the following day after harvest.
The farm relies on both direct-to-consumer and wholesale distribution models to sell their products.
It is one of the few local farms selling their farm produce online via their website. Quan Fa offers free delivery for online purchases above $50. Customers can also purchase farm produce directly from the farm on weekends.
Quan Fa’s products are also sold at Sheng Siong supermarket outlets (Pungol BLK 301, Elias Mall, Loyang Point, Bedok Central BLK 209, Clementi West BLK 720, Woodlands BLK 6A & Woodlands BLK 301) and at organic grocers such as Eat Organic (Bukit Timah).
Some of the restaurants/cafes that Quan Fa supplies to include Tsukada Nojo Singapore (Plaza Singapura, Chinatown, Westgate), Sunny Choice (Upper Bukit Timah), and Afterglow (Keong Saik Road). These food businesses strongly emphasize on the freshness and quality of their ingredients, which is why they have chosen to source for locally grown produce from Quan Fa Organic Farm. Stay tuned as we will be featuring local food businesses that support local farms!
Quan Fa is a traditional field-cultivated farm that is labour-intensive. There is a shortage of local workers since farming is not a popular career choice for Singaporeans as it requires long hours of physical labour outdoors and the financial rewards are simply insufficient for locals to be interested. As a result, Quan Fa has to rely on foreign workers from Myanmar. Even with foreign labour, labour costs in Singapore are still relatively much higher than in neighbouring countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia. This results in generally higher production costs for local farm produce, which is one of the reasons why locally grown farm produce is more expensive than foreign imported ones.
Currently, the typical lease for farm land in Singapore is 3 years. Quan Fa’s present lease is set to end in a year’s time; and like many other family-run farms in Singapore, there is an uncertainty over its future as it is mostly out of their control whether they get a lease renewal for their farm land. This uncertainty creates a challenging environment to operate a farming business in Singapore, especially for small family-run commercial farms. It discourages investment in new technology and/or infrastructure, since it may take a few years before being able to achieve a positive return on investment. If Quan Fa is unable to renew their present lease, it might contemplate shutting down the farm as it may not be commercially viable to relocate to a new location and having to rebuild the farm again from scratch.
Even if farms like Quan Fa are able to find a solution to allow them to carry on in the farming business, the shortage of agricultural land and the high costs of land and labour in Singapore will continue to pose challenges for Singapore farms. More support from the community, private sector and government agencies will be required to keep these family-run farms alive, as they, unlike the farms supported by large corporations, have very limited resources. Otherwise, they will eventually be left behind as the focus shifts towards high-tech farming, and these farms are likely to disappear from Singapore’s farming landscape. Productivity, while important, should not be the only factor for consideration. Organic farms like Quan Fa also play an important role in education and raising awareness on food-related issues in Singapore.
Refer to Quan Fa Organic Farm’s Profile page for its contact information.