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The science of agriculture chemicals

The art of farming depends on so many things. The weather, the soil, the right amount of water, proper nutrients and the careful use of pesticides and herbicides are all important factors.

Bikram “Vic” Singh of Madera plays an essential part of this process for thousands of acres of California farmland. His fertilizer company, Nia Ag Solutions, services almonds, grapes, oranges, strawberries and walnuts.

“We test the soil in our lab to see how it can be improved with the nutrients it needs,” said Singh. Some of the substances he provides are compost, gypsum, limestone and seaweed. What substances are used is based on the physiology of the crop and what the soil needs to help it grow, he said.

He also assists with 80 acres of almonds and 40 acres of vineyards owned by his family. His cousin Sahib “Sam” Singh wanted him to help improve his crops, which is how he became involved in the fertilizer business.

When he first came to Madera, Vic worked for his cousin as the manager of U-Save Liquor on Howard Road. He still manages that store and has opened his own U-Save Liquor in Chowchilla. His wife, Serra Sandhu, is the bookkeeper for both liquor stores and the fertilizer company. They have three children, a 7-year-old daughter and infant sons that are 11 months apart at ages 13 months and 2 years.

“It is almost like having twins,” said Serra.

Extended family living in their household includes Bikram’s father, Charan S. Sandhu and his brother Jagbir Singh.

The service Bikram provides to his growers includes an annual application of fertilizer applied with a lime fertilizer spreader. He operates two of the fertilizer spreaders from Big W Sales, he said. “With a new customer, we start the applications beginning right after harvest,” he said.

He believes when a tree or vine is separated from its fruit or nuts is the best time to apply the nutrients lost during picking, he said.

“Leaves on a tree or vine are like the warehouse containing the food the plants need to grow,” Singh said.

It is from the leaf of a plant that one finds the information on the health and well-being of the plant, he said. The leaf of a plant is ground up and the information is extracted while testing for sugar level and other factors.

Analyzing the leaf and comparing it to the crop studies and guidelines from the University of California, Singh will know what food the plants are lacking. He checks the soil, leafs and fruit to determine which fertilizer will improve the grower’s yield from the orchard or vineyard.

In some cases, he uses foliar feeding, which applies the fertilizer directly on the leaves. Using the foliar feeding system on his family’s almond orchards have significantly increased the size of the almonds.

When he went to sell his almond crop, another grower told him that his small variation was bigger than his large almond variety. This grower hired him to fertilize his orchards.

Another application method uses the fields own drip irrigation system to deliver the necessary chemicals that are lacking.

The substances he uses come from various sources including Norway, Europe and Washington state. A shipment from Norway can take two months for delivery.

“A lot of ranches use herbicides that leaves residue that is bad for the soil,” he said. On his family holdings, he hasn’t used weed killer in two years, he said.

His clients farm land all over the state. In addition to growers in Madera County, he services farmers from as far south as grape vineyards near Teijon Pass to as far north as strawberry patches in Watsonville.

“I’m thankful that every day God brings me new information so I can learn,” he said.

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