Agri Heroes : Ms. Soledad Agbayani – From One Career to Another
Ms. Soledad Agbayani talks about how multitasking in various agricultural vocations paid off more than she actually expected, and smilingly shares how her story of success “came from tears and sweat.”
Often sharing candid remarks and jests, Ms. Soledad Agbayani imparted to us how her success came from intense work-and not only did it pay off, as she has been contributing feats to various agricultural sectors and organizations. With newer markets to be targeted, altogether with emerging technologies and methods, Ms. Agbayani makes certain that she keeps up with the pace, like introducing her own pangasius business in Console Farm Inc., her proprietary company. Simultaneously, she is working for agricultural organizations and helping the sector boost its production; in March 2000 for instance, she and Ms. Gozon pioneered the exportation of mangoes in Korea by setting up export protocols with the Department of Agriculture and Bureau of Plant Industry.
When recalling on how she crossed that threshold, Ms. Agbayani was firstly a graduate of Pharmacy and in the 1960s, before she got into poultry, she was a teacher at Quezon City High School-”back then”, she tells us, “I was only getting my poultry to have at least one egg for each of my children.” She taught for three more years before finally estimating that, “if I concentrate enough, poultry is where the money is.”
Indeed it was. In 1962, she stopped teaching and together with several business people came up with a company called Genetic Farms. The business specialized in broiling (which she stopped), breeding and hatching chickens, with their incubators set up in her own garage and backyard. Back then, she started the business with grandparent chicken whose breed came from Germany. The chicken was bigger in size and more delicate to raise than the white layers she is now raising. When Genetic Farms officially stopped its operation, Ms. Agbayani collated all her resources to establish Console Farms Inc., a family business which she made into a corporation, with departments handling various sectors – “when the production was getting better, we had to move our resources and operations. I was from San Miguel, Bulacan, and since I have some land there, I opted to move my business there.”
In her poultry business, she is concentrated with ready-to-lay pullets – breeds which already passed mortality and vaccination tests. Buyers prefer the ready-to-lay pullets because all they have to be bothered about is transportation, in which the chicks will only be raised in 18 weeks (16 weeks prior to transportation, and raising them for two weeks to let the chickens adjust to the new environment) before laying eggs. She tells, “after two weeks time, when they follow instructions on how to take care of them, they have 94 to 95% peak laying time, which stays like that for a month. In 32 weeks, they have 96% laying time, and depending on how they raise the chicken, it will gradually slow down by 70% or less, after which they can be sold even if they’re still laying, if it’s not profitable anymore.” After Genetic Farms, she gave up the parent stock and introduced the lowman breed which, after research and thorough attention, overcame health/defect issues with the breed and maintained the layer type.
Hectic is her favorite word-she goes back and forth Manila and Bulacan, and jokingly confesses how she invested “tears and sweat, and turning nights into working days.” Currently, the company is not only a commercial one; it maintains 200,000 layers, and 80,000 layers in producing ready-to-lay pullets. Concurrent with her poultry business, she is also into swine breeding although the piggery had to temporarily close for more improvement. She also set up a cattle department with her husband, but seeing that it was not as successful as her other departments; she had to close it down. “I maximize my time and resources. With 40,000 chickens in a 25 hectare area, I decided to introduce 4,000 mango trees,” she tells, and in so doing, she was able to have 1,500 papaya trees (red lady and ctenanthe varieties), 300 latexless jackfruit trees, 200 Davao-breed pomelo trees, and 200 lakatan banana trees.
With her knowledge and technical skills, she has been contributing success to the agricultural sector. She was part of PCCI (Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry) as Vice President for Agriculture and Food Division, FRLD (Foundation for Resource Linkage and Development) and Management Association of the Philippines; and together with Ms. Gozon and Mr. Vicente Lim, they were major contributors of diversity. On Ms. Agbayani’s part, she is with the Department of Agriculture since 197os, and up to now, assisting the sector for a better prospect.
What are the fondest moments of your career?
Seeing that I love to travel, my fondest moments in my career are times when I get to travel from place to place, like when I go back and forth Manila and Bulacan for my company, and working for other sectors. Also, Ms. Gozon and I, together with Mr. Lim were always together; when you see one of us, certainly one of the other is around. Just last week, in Bataan Day, with the President, we three were special advocates. We were the triumvirate. I enjoyed poultry and swine work the most, because we do international work and meetings every two weeks, and once a month in PCCI, like in European countries and Australia, and France among others. I enjoy travelling to the country; I enjoy visiting places and also sharing knowledge with the people I visit, like Cagayan de Oro, Iloilo and other places.
What are your perspectives regarding the Agricultural sector today?
Regarding the issue of rice shortage, I always say on my radio program that we must not panic. Higher price can also mean good for our farmers. What I don’t find agreeable is how they make ration like lines just to buy a kilo of rice as if we don’t have enough supply, because we actually have adequate supply of it. Also, I think we should be self-sufficient with our rice. The possibility is a higher importation price. Even in our swine business as it has currently soaring prices, so we have to prepare for that. In the swine business, meticulousness should be observed, as you must take care of each and every pig. Disease-stricken pigs are given a year to recover. There were problems about diseases which local raisers were wary about, to the point that they get scared of reporting it to the authorities and just get it illegally slaughtered without “grade”. It reflects on the market such that you won’t have enough meat to sell, and its price will go higher. And so nowadays we see signs of improvement. A lot of veterinarians and other husbandry and biosecurity authorities, as well as people from Bureau of Animal Industry are helping each other out to recognize diseases and identify the remedies and precautions that raisers can do to ensure health and safety. On my part, I ensure health and safety. I closed my piggery and had it rented with a legal lessee, so I have no problems with that. In the poultry business, we have no problems so far because broilers are fast-growing. Fortunately, Singapore, Brunei and our country are the only ones in East Asia which is bird flu-free and so production is steady and price is stable as well. We are actually exporting to some parts of Japan, and right now, we’re also exporting nugget parts of chicken. What is important is that no matter how complete your facilities are, you should not be stricken with those diseases and other problems.
What are your latest projects?
One my latest projects is the greenhouse business that I am introducing to Console Farm Inc., and with it I am growing various crops and vegetables. I set up green houses so that I can ensure quality and safety to my produce. I grow romaine lettuce, which I ensure to be bacteria-free because it is eaten raw. I also have highland kangkong, petchay – the breed used by Chinese restaurants, eggplant, camote tops, amorgoso, bitter melon (ampalaya) and other native vegetables. We also grow sweet corn, seedless watermelon, ornamental plants like the foxtail orchids, ubi and other rootcrops in sacks. My second latest project is raising the pangasius, a newly introduced freshwater fish from the Mekong River which Thailand exports to us, and actually, the fish is now quite popular to restaurants especially in fillet cooking, as it is very tasty than any other fishes we have. It can grow much bigger and lays eggs productively. It’s very tricky to raise the fish because unlike Thailand and Laos, we can’t seem to raise them quite successfully. You have to inject hormones to the male fish, and we haven’t mastered that yet. On my part, I sent my technical people to Davao to learn more about it, and hopefully I can contribute to the success of this new trend in agriculture.
What is your message to people who want to enter an agricultural business?
You don’t have to be a husbandry graduate or agriculture graduate. I was a pharmacy graduate and I was teaching, so it was a little far off when you think of it. But you must be seriously interested in entering the business, and ultimately, you must do a lot of research and you must be willing to learn more. You should be prepared about education. At least for me, I had supervision and management courses that helped me with my business, and my background in pharmacy also assisted me in research.