The Department of Agriculture (DA) has reported a disturbing trend in the local farming scene. The average age of Filipino farmers is now a high 57 years. This simply means that younger people are veering away from the industry. “The reason for this is the widespread notion that there is no money in agriculture —particularly with the declining productivity of farmland,” explained Joseph Calata, president of Calata Corp., the biggest distributor or agrichemicals, feeds and fertilizers in the Philippines. The disturbing decline in activity and interest in agriculture is largely due to outmoded farming practices.
He warned: “There are traditional methods that negatively impact the long-term fertility of the soil. “For instance, excessively tilled soil results in loss of valuable moisture and nutrients.”Calata agreed with DA findings and further said that until the decline in new farmers is arrested, the Philippines may be facing a food shortage in the near future brought about by idle, unproductive fields.This concern drove him to form a business partnership with Siembra Directa Corp., a company that imports state-of-the-art agricultural machines from Argentina.
Calata wants to introduce proven technology in tandem with effective farming practices such as “zero tillage farming.” Already an accepted norm in more advanced agricultural economies such as Argentina, Brazil, and the United States, so-called “direct farming” promotes water and nutrient retention in the soil, while decreasing the detrimental effects of erosion. “We believe that the key to reversing the exodus of people from agriculture lies in vastly improving productivity,” said Nico Bolzico of Siembra Directa Corp. “Existing technology and machinery must be put to work in Philippine fields so that farmers can realize the full potential of their harvest,” he said. He continued that Siembra Directa is committing to making equipment such as mechanical corn planters, fumigators and harvesters available to more farmers and farmers’ cooperatives, as well as the training necessary to operate the machinery.
In a demonstration at Echague, Isabela, two mechanical planters and two spray fumigators were put to work in a cornfield, while a Siembra Directa engineer explained the process in detail. “Mechanization in concert with zero tillage farming promises immediate benefits in corn crops,” said Nico, and insisted that the usual standard harvest of three to six tons per hectare can be markedly increased by 20 percent in the short term and by two percent each successive year. The mechanical planter (which can be readily hooked up to any tractor), not only ensures uniform seed planting, but accurate and consistent spacing between plants while apportioning fertilizer. It’s a complete solution that removes the guesswork from manual, often backbreaking labor. This also frees up a lot of people from seasonal work in the field —giving them the opportunity to explore more stable and regular employment.
Two people handle as many as 1,000 hectares with a Siembra Directa machine, added Joseph Calata. The harvesting machine, on the other hand, quickly processes the rows of corn. Not only does it harvest the cobs, but removes the grains for immediate use or packaging. The discarded cobs and husks are deposited on the ground as natural fertilizer for the next crop cycle.