Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Interesting Agri People at the Vegetable Forum

ERWIN ESCUDERO, Cagayan de Oro, 33, was a student pilot who opted to go into agribusiness. We met him at the Vegetable Growers, Traders and Financiers Forum in Cebu City organized by East-West Seed Company in late November 2008.

MANGO KILLER. Erwin quips that he is known in Cagayan de Oro as the “Mango Killer” because he cut down many of the 900 old mango trees he and his father had been managing on an 8.7-hectare property they own.

He said that mango is not a profitable crop to grow in Cagayan de Oro. One time they spent ₱600,000 to induce 900 trees to flower and bear fruit. They only made a profit of ₱200,000 which he considered minuscule compared to the money and time spent. They tried to induce their mango trees seven more times but to no avail.

Finally, in 2005 Erwin sprayed 500 trees. The flowers were rained out. That was the last straw. He cut down 400 trees and made them into charcoal.

EXCITED ABOUT VEGETABLES. When we met him in Cebu City, he was excited about high-value vegetables. In May 2008 Erwin planted sweet pepper on three hectares. He harvested the first fruits in August and when harvesting was over, he got a total of 25 tons which he sold for an average of ₱30 per kilo. That was very profitable.

There was also one hectare that he planted later to sweet pepper which was being harvested when we interviewed him. He was harvesting two times a week, averaging 600 kilos weekly. At that time the price was ₱40 per kilo.

SHORT GESTATION PERIOD. Erwin loves high-vegetables because they have a short gestation period. Mangoes produce fruits only once a year. On the other hand, two crops of high-value vegetables could be planted in one year. There are even some that could be planted three or more times a year like cucumber, pakchoy, mustard, etc. One can stagger planting in such a way that there is cash flow throughout the year. And if quality of the produce is high, there is no problem marketing the same, according to Erwin. He has a stall at the Agora market inCagayan de Oro where he sells most of his harvest.

He revealed during our interview that he will also be planting next other high-value crops such as sweet corn, eggplant and tomato. He says vegetable production is more profitable than mango but one has to pay more attention to vegetables. If possible, he has to visit his plants every day. Contact Erwin at 0928-316-8416.


VIRGIE LLIDO, 66, of Cagayan de Oro, is also known as Kalabasa Queen. We previously met her in Cagayan de Oro in July 2008 and then again at the Vegetable Forum in Cebu City in late November 2008. The exciting news we got from her in Cebu is that a company in Manila is putting up a huge factory for the manufacture of flour from non-traditional raw materials, including squash. She said that representatives of the company have gone to her a number of times asking her to supply 250 tons of squash a month once the factory starts operating. Of course, that’s an exciting development.

RAGS-TO-RICHES. Virgie’s is a rags-to-riches story. She is a widow, 66, with 8 children who are now all well placed in their own professions. Before 1990, she was just an ordinary vegetable vendor in the city’s public market, selling small amounts of sayhote, potatoes and the like. One thing that changed her life tremendously was the telephone in her stall.

A certain lady from Iligan City whom she only knew as Aling Baby requested that she be allowed to use Virgie’s telephone number as her contact number in Cagayan de Oro. Up to now, though, she does not know Aling Baby’s complete name. She has lost contact with her completely.

One day in 1990, Virgie received a telephone call from Flor Noma, a vegetable dealer in Divisoria. She was looking for Aling Baby. Virgie told the caller that Aling Baby had not reported to Cagayan de Oro for a long time now and that she did not know her whereabouts.

The caller told Virgie that she badly needed two container vans of Suprema squash. Could she then buy the two container vans (total of 16 tons) of squash for her? At that time and up to now, Suprema from East-West Seed is the preferred variety and it is being produced in Bukidnon and Misamis Oriental in really big volume.

Virgie frankly told Flor that she did not have any experience in shipping squash to Manila. She was just an ordinary vendor. Besides, she did not have the money to buy the big volume of squash. To which Flor immediately answered that she will send her the money.

Right away Flor sent her ₱50,000 through the Allied Bank. For a day, Virgie said she did not get the money from the bank. It was such a big amount for her. She had not received such an amount in her life. When she told Flor that she did not know how to ship the squash, Flor told her to see a certain Daday in Malaybalay. Fortunately, she knew Daday and so she contacted her. Daday would help Virgie to ship the squash.

It turned out that the ₱50,000 was not enough to pay for the two container vans of squash as each cost ₱32,000. She called Flor that the money was not enough, and Flor immediately sent ₱20,000. There was an excess of ₱6,000 so Virgie called up Flor again to return the excess amount.

Flor told Virgie to keep the amount as her payment for doing her the favor of buying and shipping the 2 container vans of squash. From then on, Virgie became Flor’s assembler of Suprema squash.

Virgie is now a multi-millionaire in her own right. She now supplies two other dealers in Manila besides Flor. She ships more than 10 container vans a week to Manila, 6 to Cebu and 4 to Bacolod. She buys her supplies from close to a hundred farmers in Misamis and Bukidnon. She herself plants Suprema on 32 hectares that was mortgaged to her for ₱375,000. She owns three big trucks used for hauling the harvests of farmers who sell to her. She has also bought the bodega where she conducts her business.

Virgie has also become some kind of a celebrity in Cagayan de Oro. After we featured her in Panorama Magazine, a staff of Jessica Soho of GMA Network called us up inquiring how to get in touch with Virgie. Subsequently, she was featured in Jessica’s TV program.

Virgie’s daughter who is a nurse stationed in Texas has petitioned her to migrate to the United States, or just to visit. Her visa to the US has already been approved but Virgie said she could not leave her squash business. It is a goldmine she can’t leave even for a short time. Photo shows Virgie (left) with Dr. Mary Ann Sayoc, general manager of East-West Seed Company, during the Vegetable Forum in Cebu. Virgie’s contact Nos. 0916-316-1411 and 088-583-0198.

Friday, February 6, 2009

SUCCESS IN ANGELES CITY: Angie Dayon: From Housemaid to Kangkong Queen

For many years, starting in 1980, Angeles Dayon, 54, used to be a housemaid of an American couple at Clark Field in Pampanga. Aside from doing the household chores, she also used to go to Divisoria to buy fruits and vegetables for her lady boss who had a business of supplying food items to clients in the American base.

Perhaps it was her experience in purchasing vegetables that influenced her to go into vegetable production after her bosses left the country after the termination of the US-Philippine bases agreement and hastened by the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in 1991.

Today, the former housemaid is more popularly known as the “Kangkong Queen.”
That’s because she has been the biggest grower of Chinese kangkong, also called upland kangkong, in Angeles City. For more than 10 years now, she has been planting mostly kangkong on four hectares that used to be a garbage dump in Brgy. Anonas, Angeles City. Almost everyday, during peak months, she would deliver a jeepload of kangkong and her other vegetables to customers in Arranque market in Manila. Each jeepload of her harvest could be worth P15,000 or even more.

Lucky in a Way

In a way, Angie who is a native of Ormoc City, has been very lucky because she was able to purchase for ₱5,000 the “rights” for a small lot from the original occupant of the public land that used to be a garbage dump. That’s where she started growing vegetables. Her first crop was bunching onion because a friend had supplied her with a sackful of planting materials at a cost of ₱1,000. She grew the bunching onion into a beautiful crop but the fellow who supplied her the planting materials bought back the crop at only ₱5 per kilo.

She knew that the buyer had put one over her. Nevertheless, she did not complain. Instead, she looked for other vegetables to grow and then also looked for her own market. While most of the other growers disposed their harvests in Divisoria, she chose Arranque market for herself.

It did not take long for Angie to learn the rudiments of growing vegetables and marketing them. Her project grew and grew, and soon the original occupant of the place sold her additional space. She paid ₱50,000 for a space that was almost a hectare. She was then able to grow more vegetables and soon discovered that upland kangkong was most profitable to grow. A few years later, she was able to pay for the four hectares from her income from growing and selling vegetables, particularly kangkong.

Farm Is Spic and Span

Today, the four-hectare property is spic and span. It is level and the vegetable plots are neatly arranged. The soil is friable which is very ideal for growing vegetables. Nine workers are helping Angie produce kangkong and a few other varieties throughout the year.

Upland kangkong offers a number of advantages as a money crop. For one, it is easy to grow from seed. In just 25 to 30 days, the plants are ready for harvesting. The vegetable is also very saleable, especially in Manila. Angie wholesales her harvest at only ₱10 per kilo, yet the profit margin is still significant because the production cost is not much. She pays just ₱170 per kilo of seeds if she gets the seeds from the seed producer; ₱250 per kilo if she buys them from the provincial distributor.

She buys her seeds not just by a few kilos. When we visited her early July (2007), she just ordered 100 kilos of kangkong seeds from the representative of East-West Seed Company. She plants on a staggered basis so that her harvest is continuous.

Although production is continuous, the plants are robust. She says she incorporates a lot of chicken manure in the soil and applies nitrogenous fertilizer, too. Her kangkong plots are narrower than most garden plots, just about 18 inches wide. She likes it that way because the plants are watered manually by means of a sprinkler. The narrow plots ensure that all the plants are adequately watered with just one passing.

Women Harvesters

Aside from providing employment to the gardeners and her driver, Angie also provides work for women in harvesting her kangkong and other vegetables. The kangkong plants are uprooted, cleaned with water and then packed in plastic bags. The harvesters are paid ₱2 per kilo they harvested and packed. Her women harvesters are either Visayans or Ilocanos. She said women from Pampanga don’t seem to like soiling their hands.

She remembers the years 1997 up to a few years later as the glorious years of her kangkong business. There were few growers of upland kangkong then and she could sell virtually any quantity. She could deliver a jeepload everyday and this would not be even enough to meet the demand.

Today, there are probably 30 big suppliers of kangkong and competition is getting more stiff. That is why she has been diversifying so she can be more competitive. Today, she is growing more bunching onion and chives which sell for ₱40 per kilo. Another money maker is Pak Choy, a Chinese pechay, which sells from ₱40 to ₱60 per kilo, depending on the season. Chinese kale is another new money-maker for Angie. Then there is coriander which fetches ₱100 per kilo. She is also trying some varieties of spinach.

Helping Her Relatives

Angie has really gone a long way from her days as a housemaid. Besides giving employment to townmates and other workers, she has been helping in the schooling of her nieces and nephews. Two of them have graduated from college, one a teacher and the other an accountant, who are now gainfully employed. Two others are currently enrolled in college.

She is a hands-on vegetable grower. If she is not delivering her merchandise, she is on her farm observing her plants and supervising the activities of the workers. (Agriculture Magazine, August 2007)☻

Success Story in Malaybalay City: Butch Saavedra Planted Mangoes at 18 While Enrolled in College

He has a very unusual name, Irlfe Masif Saavedra. But that’s not the only unusual thing about this 44-year-old fellow from Malaybalay City in Bukidnon. Some 26 years ago, at age 18 while enrolled in a commerce course at Xavier University in Cagayan de Oro, he had the wisdom to plant mango trees on a 2.5-hectare farm that his parents inherited. He planted 200 mango trees from which he has been grossing as much as P1.5 million a year to this day.

He Keeps Complete Records. Also quite remarkable is the fact that he keeps complete records of his farming activities. That way, he knows whether he is making money or not from his projects. The records could tell him, for instance, if it is better to shift to some other crop. With the advent of computers, record keeping and analysis of farming trends are so much easier now, making farming more flexible and profitable.

Papaya Contract Grower. Since his college days, he has been engaged in a number of farm projects. One of his projects was contract growing of papaya used for processing by Del Monte. He planted the seedlings provided by Del Monte on four hectares in Villanueva, Misamis Oriental. He has records to prove that the project was very profitable. Under the terms, the grower was provided with the seedlings for planting, the cost of which was deducted from the harvest. Each contract grower was given three years to produce 80 tons per hectare. If he fails to meet the quota, the contract would be terminated. The price that Del Monte paid was P4.25 per kilo.

The hybrid papaya provided by Del Monte was really a heavy yielder. Instead of three years, Saavedra, who is better known simply as Butch, produced the 80 tons in just 18 months. The total cost of production per hectare was P80,000 while the gross income was P400,000 per hectare.

Because contract growing was so profitable, a lot of applicants swamped Del Monte. But the company could not accommodate all of them. As a result, Del Monte decided to limit its contract growers and also lowered the buying price to P3.20 per kilo. That was the time Butch decided to engage in some other farm projects.

Next Into Corn and Squash. He went into corn and Suprema squash production. He also engaged in trading of vegetables, shipping squash and other products to Cebu. He had a very profitable operation in growing squash on two hectares every month. The problem at that time, however, was the shortage of hybrid Suprema seeds. He said that Suprema, a hybrid from East-West Seed Company was the preferred variety. He tried planting Preciosa, another hybrid from the same company. Preciosa was also fruitful but the eating quality was not what the consumers liked. The traders did not like it too.

All along, he was conducting his farming and trading operations in Cagayan de Oro City until 1991 when the family relocated to Malaybalay, the hometown of his wife, the former Marilen Metiam. Because he could not get enough seeds of squash for planting, he shifted his interest to hybrid ampalaya, also from East-West Seed. Up to this day, ampalaya is a major money maker for Butch.

Ampalaya in 2005. He started growing the Jade Star L and Galaxy hybrids in 2005. At first, he planted just 1,800 hills in May of 2005. The profit was very good so he planted 2,500 hills the second time in January 2006. This time, the harvest was not very good because that was a particularly hot season. The overhead sprinklers had to be in operation for two days each week, which meant that the workers could not work in the field for two days every week. Monitoring what was going on in the plantation was not possible. Oh yes, daily monitoring should be made to make sure problems that might occur could be attended to immediately.

Drip Irrigation Instead of Sprinklers. He phased out the overhead sprinklers and installed a drip irrigation system. He uprooted his plants in March and planted 4,400 hills on the same farm in May. Aside from installing drip irrigation system, he also used plastic mulch, one of the improved techniques in growing high-value crops. Instead of the usual direct seeding, he germinated his seedling in plastic trays, planting them 11 days after seeding. In that particular crop planted in May 2006, he was able to harvest 48,848 kilos which he was able to sell at P12 to P18 per kilo. He netted P557,135 from that particular crop which cost him P150,000 to produce.

From then on, he has been planting ampalaya both on his own farm as well as on rented land. He used to rent a hectare for only P6,000 a year. Now, it has gone up to P12,000, thanks to the big banana and pineapple planters who are renting most of the available farmlands. At any rate, he thinks it still pays to rent land for planting ampalaya. His schedule is to plant 2,200 hills every month to sustain year-round production. Some of them are on rented land.

Crop Rotation a Must. He observes that in some places where ampalaya is grown successively, the yield tends to decrease. In that case, he has to do crop rotation. He is planning to plant next sweet pepper hybrids from East-West. One such hybrid is Improved Majesty which is very prolific. It is much better than the original Majesty which has thin skin and is easily damaged during transport. The Improved Majesty has thicker skin and has longer shelf life and better transport quality. Sweet pepper is also a good money maker. It is in demand not only in restaurants and households but also by fish canning factories.

One Has to beWell-Focused. Butch believes that when you are in farming for money, you have to be well focused. He relates that in 1997, he and his wife engaged in Ukay-ukay, the business of selling second hand clothes imported from Korea. At times the returns are good but at other times it could be a losing proposition, especially when the batch you buy are not the kind the local buyers want. They had to travel from town to town starting as early as 4 o’clock in the morning. The business was so hectic and time consuming, Butch no longer had time to plant his favorite vegetables.

They eventually gave up the Ukay-ukay business and concentrated on the things they love and enjoy most to do. Now Butch devotes his full time to farming while Marilen attends to her thriving grocery store. Butch knows that farming can be a profitable undertaking if one treats it as an honest-to-goodness business enterprise. That is keeping accurate records and keeping abreast of the latest developments in production and marketing.☻

SUCCESS IN MUÑOZ CITY, NUEVA ECIJA: Goldmine in Certified Rice Seeds

Producing certified rice seeds is a virtual goldmine. That’s what the couple Ricardo and Gloria Magdangal of Brgy. Maligaya in Munoz City have found since 13 years ago.

Ricardo finished a course in agricultural engineering at the Central Luzon State University in 1978 while his wife is nurse who graduated from the Nueva Ecija Doctors Hospital in Cabanatuan City. Soon after graduation Ricardo worked for a few years at the National Irrigation Administration while Gloria got employed as a nurse in her alma mater.

In 1995, Ricardo (more popularly known by his nickname Tilah) thought of joining a training on certified rice seed production at the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) which is right in the barangay where he lives. Soon after, the couple decided to give up their employment to engage in certified seed production and put up Tilah Seed Center where they sell certified seeds.

Started with 6 Hectares

For a start they planted six hectares that they owned. Today, they are producing certified seeds on 70 hectares, 60 of which are now owned by them while the rest are mortgaged to them. Tilah said that after each harvest, they use their profit to buy new land. Which means that producing certified seeds is really a goldmine.

Because their farms are irrigated, they produce two crops a year. Usually, they harvest 100 cavans per hectare during the wet season and 150 during the dry season. In the earlier years, the selling price per bag was ₱650, so they grossed ₱65,000 per hectare for the wet season crop. Since the average cost of production was ₱20,000 per hectare, the margin was really substantial. The profit during the dry season was even bigger because of the higher yield.

Today, the cost of production has gone up to ₱37,000 to ₱40,000 per hectare but then the selling price of certified seeds has virtually doubled. A bag of 40 kilos now sells at ₱1,200. By the way, they also produce a smaller volume of registered seeds which sell at ₱1,600 per bag. This is produced from the so-called foundation seeds bought from PhilRice. The registered seed, on the other hand, is the one planted to produce certified seeds.

While the Magdangals now produce about 17,500 bags of their own in two croppings per year, that is not enough for the requirements of buyers of Tilah Seed Center which is patronized not only by individual farmers but also by the Department of Agriculture. The seed center sells more than 100,000 bags of certified and registered seeds a year, with the DA buying half of the volume.

Only 18 Accredited Seed Producers Before

So, what did the Magdangals do to produce the volume required by their store? Tilah explained that in 1995, there were only 18 accredited producers of certified seeds who were members of the Nueva Ecija Seed Growers Association. They believed that limiting the number would protect the members from cutthroat competition. To be accredited, one has to have at least three hectares for seed production. In addition, he has to have his own thresher, solar dryer and a bodega. Of course, most farmers could not comply with such requirements.

In 1997, when he won as barangay chairman, Tilah thought that other small farmers in his province should also be able to reap the benefits of producing certified seeds. He convinced the authorities that even the small farmers should be allowed to participate in seed production as long as they undergo training at PhilRice. Today, there are more than 200 certified seed producers in Muňoz and some adjoining towns. Many of these people are now selling their produce to the Tilah Seed Center which has put up three branches, two in Isabela and one in nearby Santo Domingo in Nueva Ecija. Aside from the branches, they also have dealers in several provinces.

50 Farmer Cooperators, 500+ Hectares

Today, the Magdangals have 50 farmer cooperators who are planting no less than 500 hectares. Many are planting just one or two hectares but there are also a few who cultivate as many as 40 hectares for seed production. These cooperators don’t only come from Munoz but also from Talavera, Santo Domingo and a few other towns.

All the cooperators have undergone training on seed production at PhilRice. The cooperator takes care of land preparation which usually costs ₱6,000 per hectare. On the other hand, the Magdangals advance the cost of seeds, fertilizers and pesticides. If the farm is not covered by the irrigation system, the cost of diesel for pumping water is also advanced.

To ensure the high quality of seeds, Tilah Seed Center has two specialists who do nothing but go around to monitor the standing crops of the farmers and advising them on what to do like keeping their farms clean and removing all off-types if there are any. There are also inspectors from the National Seed Quality Control Systems who go around to check the crops of seed growers. The harvested seeds are also tested in a laboratory for germination and seed quality.

In 2009, Tilah plans to increase the number of his cooperators not only to increase the volume of his supply but also to help other farmers reap the rewards of producing certified seeds. He plans to engage at least 25 new cooperators in each barangay in Muňoz.

More than 30 Varieties

The Tilah Seed Center sells more than 30 varieties. Every time PhilRice releases a new variety, Tilah sees to it that it is included in his list because farmers are always looking for such varieties. One of the favorites of farmers is NSIC 128 which is high yielding and soft when cooked. Another is Rc18 which is not only high yielding, it is also resistant to pests and diseases. Farmers from Pangasinan, on the other hand, love to plant IR60 because this is the variety that noodle makers are looking for.

Meanwhile, Seed Center has become a One-Stop-Agricultural-Shop. Aside from seeds it also, carries fertilizers, pesticides and other items needed by farmers. Producing certified rice seeds has really become a goldmine not only for the Magdangal couple but also for many other farmers in Nueva Ecija.☻

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Sojourn In Zambales

We visited Zambales in late December 2008 where we met Johnson Huang, a Taiwanese who operates the Green Healthy Vegetables Farm in Brgy. Balaybay, Castillejos. He started growing nontraditional vegetables in 1998 on a one-hectare rented land for P10,000 a year. He grew lettuce, cucumber and other vegetables that the local farmers did not grow. He was brought to the Philippines by an elder brother who had a factory in the Subic Bay Free Port. However, instead of helping his brother in his business, he opted to become a vegetable grower in the once-sleepy barrio of Balaybay.

What Does He Have Today? Aside from the original one hectare, he has rented since 2002 a 10-hectare farm where he has more than 150 greenhouse for growing various vegetables, culinary herbs and other high-value crops. The other high-value crops include calamansi, Red Lady papaya, melons, sweet corn and sugarcane for chewing and fresh juice. Starting 2009, he is renting a 5-hectare farm for additional production of sugarcane.

Sugarcane for Juice Is Profitable. Johnson Huang has discovered that there is money in sugarcane juice. He sells his fresh juice to diners in his farm at P40 per 500 cc glass. He has a stainless juicer in the farm. He also sells the canes to Manila. In the last two years, he planted just half hectare, harvesting the canes 8 months after planting. The yield is 40 to 50 tons per half hectare. In 2 months the whole crop is sold out. (By the way, Adela Ang of Edsa Garden House in Quezon City, has been looking to no avail possible suppliers of sugarcane for extracting fresh juice. Her contact No. is 09178120782.)

Spinach Is Fast to Grow and Profitable. Of the many crops that Johnson grows, Spinach is a good money maker. He delivers 300 kilos to Manila (Puregold and Shopwise) every day. He grows spinach in greenhouses 5 meters wide and 24 meters long. He does not sow the seeds in plastic trays. He just broadcasts them over prepared plots. Before broadcasting, he mixes the seeds with fine soil. This way, they are better distributed. He harvests about 150 kilos of spinach from one greenhouse only 20 days after broadcasting. His price is P30 per kilo. Cost of seeds is P75 per greenhouse. Ten sacks of old chicken manure is applied before planting. Overhead watering system is used.

Not Enough Supply. When one has established his reliability in terms of steady supply, good quality and reasonable price, there is no problem in marketing one’s produce. Johnson just sells to supermarkets and hotels in the Subic area, and in Metro Manila. He sells all his 1 to 2 tons daily mostly to Shopwise and Puregold. He says purchasing reps of SM have talked to him three times so he could supply them also. He could not accommodate them for the meantime.

Johnson Serves Good Food. Friends have convinced Johnson Huang to put up a dining place right in his farm so they could have a taste of his produce. Our fare during our visit: steamed spinach, steamed camote tops (a variety developed in Taiwan for shoot production), split cherry tomato with dikiam, lettuce, pakchoy, cucumber, sweet corn (no rice), fresh sugarcane juice, dimsum cooked Taiwanese way, stir-fried lamb cubes, melons. Many expats and Filipinos from the Subic free port go there to observe the farming operations and to eat fresh foods grown without chemical pesticides. For details contact Joy Pimentel, Johnson’s assistant at 0920-954-6989. From Manila Healthy Green Vegetables Farm can be reached by car in about three hours or less.