Biggest Bangus(Milkfish) Exporter Pursues Vermiculture
The Alcantara Group of Companies in Southern Mindanao has become well known for its Sarangani bangus the past several years. That is easily understandable. After all, it harvests about 18 tons of bangus every day and exports most of it in processed form to the United States and some other places. It’s the country’s biggest bangus exporter. At the same time, the Alcantara group, through its Finfish Hatcheries, produces some 800 million Sarangani bangus fingerlings a year, almost half the total requirements of the country.
Of course, many years back, the Alcantara group (also known simply as Alsons) was famous for its Sarangani cattle. The cattle project is still there but not as big an operation as it used to be. The company is also into mango (8,000 trees), 160 hectares of bananas (cardaba, Cavendish and lakatan) and over 30 hectares of pummelo.
What excites Ramon Macaraig these days, however, are what may be called “little projects” that they are currently developing. Ramon is the technical services manager of Alsons’ agribusiness division and one of his jobs is to spot projects that could be developed into a money machine.
One new project is vermicomposting or the production of organic fertilizer with the use of earthworms that convert farm wastes into organic plant food. This is a very promising project, especially in the light of the soaring prices of chemical fertilizer as well as the increasing demand for organic agricultural products not only in the Philippines but also abroad.
The vermicomposting project started with the purchase of just a kilo of African nightcrawlers from a source in Mindanao at R900 per kilo in November 2006. Doing his own research and by visiting known vermicomposters, Ramon has been able to multiply the initial one kilo of breeders into several hundred kilos. They are now harvesting one ton of vermicompost every 12 to 15 days.
The project is still in its infant stage but Ramon now sees a very good potential in it. For one, the raw materials in vermicomposting are readily available at the Alsons farms without having to buy them. These include cattle and goat manure which are plentiful, banana farm wastes, and ipil-ipil leaves which are also abundant in the place. The inclusion of ipil-ipil leaves is meant to increase the nitrogen content of the end product. There’s also a high rate of recovery. For every one ton of composting materials, they usually get 800 kilos of vermicompost. At their low selling price of R6 per kilo, that’s R4,800 worth of organic fertilizer from a bed of 10 square meters.
By doing his own experiment, Ramon has found a way to accelerate the production of vermicompost. He observed that by putting to work 20 kilos of earthworms in one ton of composting materials (25 percent cattle manure, 25 percent goat manure, and the rest banana wastes and ipil-ipil leaves), the earthworms can fully decompose the materials in a matter of only 10 days. When the usual recommendation of about five kilos to a ton of substrate is followed, it usually takes 45 days for it to be fully composted. The heavy stocking is recommended for fast compost production with earthworms. But if the purpose is to produce breeders, they have to be given much more feed. That way, they will produce a lot of eggs.
Production cost at Alsons is really low, that is why the company can sell its vermicompost to a distributor in General Santos City at only R6 per kilo. The dealer, on the other hand, sells it at R10 per kilo. In Metro Manila, the same retails at R25 a kilo.
Ramon said they are in the process of market testing. They want to find out how the farmers will receive their organic fertilizer. He is very sure though that vermicompost is an excellent fertilizer for many crops. In fact, he said, their pummelos which were fertilized with vermicompost a few months back are now heavy with young fruits. That’s also the experience of other farmers in other places. In an experimental planting of jatropha in Bulacan, the most vigorous plants were those fertilized with vermicompost.
Ramon is not worried at all about marketing their vermicompost when they shall have fully expanded their operations. After all, they have enough of mangoes, bananas and pummelo which can use their production.