Air-Dried Tobaccos Are Also Profitable To Grow
Virginia Tobacco is the variety usually planted by most farmers in the Ilocos and other places in the North. But if you ask Ben Mencias of Villasis, Pangasinan, he would rather plant the native tobacco which does not require flue-curing. His brother Loreto, on the other hand, prefers to plant another type of tobacco from Brazil that only needs air-drying like the native variety.
The Mencias brothers are from Brgy. Barangubong in Villasis. Loreto is a 1984 graduate of agriculture from the Pangasinan State University. He served for a short time as agriculturist in Tayug after graduation but went to Saudi Arabia soon after to work as a landscaping supervisor until 1994.
After his return to his hometown, he did not seek employment anymore. Instead, he decided to become a full-time farmer. At the end of the rainy season, his favorite crop is the native tobacco locally known as “Batek.” He explained that the native tobacco is much easier to grow than Virginia tobacco. For one, he does not have to hurry the harvesting of the leaves. Even if the leaves become over-ripe, it is all right. But not in the case of Virginia tobacco.
Another very important consideration is that the native tobacco leaves don’t have to be dried in a flue-curing barn which entails the use of fuel wood which is not only expensive, it could also be the cause of deforestation that results in landslides and flooding. The tobacco leaves which are strung in bamboo sticks of about a meter long are simply air-dried in the shade. The air-dried native tobacco also commands a good price. Last season, Ben said that the dried bigger leaves were sold at P78 per kilo while the smaller first few leaves that were harvested were sold at P45 per kilo.
Ben also says that the native tobacco produces a high yield. From a half-hectare that he usually plants to his favorite crop, he usually gets 2,000 kilos of air-dried leaves. Thus, at the price he sold his harvest, he got no less than P150,000 from the half hectare that he planted. He adds that the cash outlay in producing his native tobacco is not much because he himself helps in land preparation, planting and harvesting of the leaves. When we met him he was hauling the harvest from his farm with a hand tractor pulling an improvised trailer. Of course, he is also happy in the fact that he provides employment to his neighbors who help him in sticking the tobacco leaves. The neighbors, mostly women and children, who do the sticking are paid P1.50 per stick.
The air-dried native tobacco leaves are sold by the “pardo”. Ben says that about 120 sticks make one pardo. During the last season, he sold one pardo for P6,000. From that half hectare that he planted he got 25 pardos worth P150,000.
TOBACCO FROM BRAZIL
Loreto Mencias has another favorite tobacco that does need flue-curing. This is the ULP-2 from Brazil, a variety that is made into cigar, according to Loreto. This variety is exported and it usually commands a higher price than Virginia tobacco.
Loreto explained that 16 leaves are usually allowed to ripen per plant. The five highest leaves commanded the highest price of P102 per kilo last year. The next 7 or 8 leaves below commanded 188 per kilo while the remaining lowest leaves fetched P45 to P50 per kilo. Loreto said he can gross at least P200,000 from a hectare of ULP-2.
Loreto does not only make money from planting ULP-2 in his own farm. He
is an accredited producer of seedlings of ULP-2 and Burley tobacco by the United Leaf Philippines, Inc., a big company that supplies the planting materials to growers not only in the Ilocos but also in Tarlac, Pangasinan and Isabela. The company buys all the harvest of the cooperating farmers.
As a seedling producer, Loreto is paid 35 centavos per seedling produced for ULPI. Last planting season, he was able to produce 324,000 seedlings for the company worth P113,000. He estimates that he had only a cash outlay of P35,000 to produce that number of seedlings. Besides Loreto, there are three other accredited seedling producers in Pangasinan who are also making a good income.
BEN’S OTHER MONEY MAKERS
Ben Mensias is an enterprising farmer who does not only depend on tobacco for his income. Since tobacco is grown only in the dry months, he also grows some other high-value crops the rest of the year. One of his money makers last season was Bt corn, a genetically modified variety which does not have to be sprayed with insecticide against corn earworm. Last February, he was able to harvest 4.2 tons from less than one hectare. Because the price of corn in Pangasinan at that time was P26 per kilo, he was able to sell his first 20 cavans of 50 kilos each at P1,200 per cavan. The rest of his harvest, however, was sold at P13.50 per kilo, which Ben considers as still a good price.
Another money maker for Ben is hybrid tomato, particularly the high-yielding Diamante from East-West Seed Company. He confessed, however, that his first crop was a disaster. It happened that he planted his first tomato crop in December 2007 when his neighbors were also planting theirs. When he harvested his tomato fruits the following February, the price per kilo had gone down to P4 per kilo. That was a losing proposition.
The next year, he was wise enough not to plant when the other farmers were planting the same. In July 2008, Ben planted 1,500 hills of Diamante tomato and by the end of August he started harvesting the fruits. To improve fruit set, he sprayed his plants with Nevirol, a plant growth regulator that increases fruit set not only in tomatoes but also other vegetables and fruit trees. Nevirol is a powder made in Hungary that is sprayed on the plants that are in flower.
With the help of Nevirol, he was able to make a good harvest. Because there were no other tomato growers at that time, Ben was able to sell most of his tomatoes at P40 per kilo. The lowest price he got was P20 per kilo. Even this lowest price was five times the price he got when he planted his tomatoes in December.
Timing is a crucial key to success of many farmers, including Ben Mencias. Growing other high-value crops besides tobacco is another.