Mr Tan Koon Hua, 48, director of Farm 85 Trading, takes quiet pride in growing leafy crops such as bok choy and kang kong on his vegetable farms.
His son Liang Zhong, 21, is as old as he was when he first started out in farming more than 20 years ago, and eager to learn the trade. But Mr Tan is reluctant to hand over the reins. Out of his five farms, three totalling 10ha in Lim Chu Kang have been affected by redevelopment plans, and he feels the outlook for the industry remains uncertain.
"My son is very interested in farming, but I am worried that he may end up suffering," he said in Mandarin. "I can train him so the trade can flourish. But the policy direction for the local farming industry is still unclear. If he joins me, he might be spending time learning something that will be wasted."
Mr Tan has been trying to improve business efficiency and quality, and said farmers are not just concerned about the relocation, but also the longer- term outlook. Every day, his farms produce seven to 10 tonnes of leafy vegetables, which are distributed to supermarkets and wholesalers. He has developed a tool that allows seeds to be sown with sufficient distance between each plant, which eases harvesting and ensures scarce land is utilised well. Since 2012, the farms have also reduced the use of chemical fertiliser by scaling up the production of their own organic fertiliser made out of compost.
Mr Tan hopes there will be more dialogue between farmers and the authorities so that the needs of the industry can be better communicated.
Besides soil quality and availability of water at the relocated farms, there are also rising manpower costs and changes in weather patterns in the light of climate change to contend with.
"We want to coordinate well with the authorities so that the journey ahead for the industry will be a smooth one, and ensure that there will be Singaporeans who can produce food for the country," he said.
Mr Liang Zhong, who has just completed national service and is helping his father out at the farm, said: "I will try my best to continue his work, but we need the assurance from the Government that this industry is here to stay so that we can further develop and invest in the business. " Yuen Sin