A Veggie Derby in Polomolok
The good news for vegetable growers is that more and more new varieties are being developed by the local seed companies. One hope is that there will be less imported seeds in the coming years. Many of them will be developed right in the Philippines. After all, there are capable plant breeders who can produce seeds that are more adapted to Philippine conditions.
One company that is doing its share in promoting locally produced improved varieties is Ramgo International Corporation which established last year its own breeding and research center in Polomolok, South Cotabato. One year later, last November 25, the company invited more than 40 local government agriculturists, farmers and officials of the Department of Agriculture to see what has been going on in the company’s research station. The invitees came from as far north as the Ilocos and Cagayan Valley down to the Visayas and Mindanao. There were also a few media people like us.
And what did we see? Aside from the current bestsellers of the company, there are a number of promising varieties under trial. One that caught our attention early is a new variety of squash that is only identified by its code number Squash 11-1103. It was planted on 50 square meters side by side with another variety of Ramgo and that of another company. They were all planted on 50 square meters.
Dr. Romeo Opeña, a veteran plant breeder who spent much of his time at the Asian Vegetable Research and Development Center in Taiwan, explained that the plant is not as bushy as the other varieties but it is very much more fruitful. For instance, there were more than 40 medium-size fruits produced by 11-1103 in that 50 square meters compared to only 17 in the other Ramgo variety, and 7 fruits in the variety from another seed company.
The new variety is expected to be released sometime in 2013. Dr. Opeña explained that it will have to be further tested in other areas in the Philippines. It will be observed not only for its prolificacy but also for its resistance to common pests and diseases of squash. The eating quality will have to be evaluated. The fruits are not as big as the other varieties (about 3 to 4 kilos each) but being relatively small has its advantages. It could be easier to market than the big varieties.
Right from the entrance of the experimental station, beautiful plots of string beans (sitao) greeted us. The pods are so long and straight, and the plants are so vigorous. We saw the Mega Green, the Super Green and some other new varieties. The Super Green has an open growth habit, it has smaller leaves than others so that sunlight penetrates better. In effect, it produces more fruits.
The sitao pods come in dark green color, light green and in between. Alvin Aquino, the chief plant breeder, explained that different regions of the country have different color preferences for their sitao. That is why they have to produce the preferred varieties for each region.
Pamela Ong Chan, the lady boss of the company, explained that their company used to focus mostly on highland vegetable varieties. Now, with their research station in Polomolok, they are also focusing on the lowland “pinakbet” type varieties.
One of their major targets is eggplant. Their current bestseller is called Sikat which produces uniform, glossy purple fruits. They are also undertaking trials of other varieties. One of them has clustering fruiting habit. Another new variety that we saw has round fat fruits with pinkish skin that is striped.
They have several cucumber varieties. One of the new ones is Hermes which is very early maturing. The first fruits can be harvested in just 32 days from planting. It is also very prolific, one plant can yield 15 to 18 kilos. Harvesting can be done everyday so that the grower has a continuous cash flow.
Of course, the company also keeps old and tested varieties. Just like the Amazones cucumber which was introduced many years ago yet it is still a favorite of growers.
Pepper, both the pangsigang type and the labuyo type are among the priority crops of Ramgo. These are hot money-makers, especially when they are grown off season. The pangsigang type, for instance, fetched P200 per kilo last October. The labuyo type can fetch as much as P400 to P500 per kilo when it is off-season.
Other crops being given attention are sweet corn, watermelon, tomato, okra, ampalaya and others.
The company took the initiative to invite the local government agriculturists and farmers so they can show them what are the latest developments in the seed industry. Hopefully, they will be able to disseminate what they have observed to their constituents in the provinces.
By Zac B. Sarian