Dragon Fruit : The New Money Crop
One of the new crops the farmers in Ilocos Norte are producing is dragon fruit or pitaya, the fruit of cacti that are native to Central and South America. These cacti are now also cultivated in Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, and Taiwan.
In the town of Burgos, Ilocos Norte, which is known for its centuries-old lighthouse, there is a 5-hectare (ha) farm where 3 ha are being developed for the production of dragon fruit.
Husband and wife Rodolfo and Edita Dacuycuy own this farm located at the foot of the historic lighthouse. Although they started planting dragon fruit only on November 12, 2006, they have already harvested 120 kg of fruits from their farm and 80 kg from their backyard in Pasuquin, the town before Burgos.
They did not really intend to go into commercial production but they were encouraged to go into it when they grossed at least P16,000 from their initial harvest because their plants started to bear fruits eight months after planting.
Most of the fruits, which have red-pink peel, were sold to the Five Sisters Superstore in Laoag City at P80 a kilo. Some of the fruits were also sold to walk-in customers at P120 to P150 a kilo.
Edita, a 1968 BS Psychology graduate of the University of the Philippines, recalls that a family friend from Abulog, Cagayan gave them a few planting materials in June 2006. They became interested in the plant when their friend told them that dragon fruit has some medicinal properties that could
help their 23-year old daughter who is suffering from cerebral palsy.
According to Reader’s Digest, dragon fruit is loaded “with powerful antioxidants” and “it’s thought to help protect against stress-related disorders. Central American folk use it to treat poor eyesight, diabetes and rheumatism.”
Edita, her daughters, and a physician, learned from the Internet that the fruit has lots of antioxidants. These are anticancer and could lower blood pressure, and prevent heart disease. The fruit is rich in vitamin C and watersoluble fibers, prevents constipation, good for urinary tract infection, improves eyesight, and prevents diabetes and rheumatism.
Its flowers can be prepared into dishes, too. The unopened flower buds can be prepared into salad and dried flowers can be cooked as soup and herb. The pulp of fruit skin can also be boiled as cleansing drink and cooked into jam and its fruit can also be processed into flavor drinks.
In Bangkok, Thailand during the fruiting season, lots of chilled dragon fruit slices are served in the coffee shops of hotels and guests can have as much as they can eat.
PRACTICAL FARM TECHNOLOGY
They started planting 428 poles on No vember 12, 2006. To start a relatively large planting, they bought 500 stem cuttings for P25,000 from their friend in Abulog. They also bought concrete posts, the kind that is usually used as post for fences, which they used as poles for the plants. Each post costs P200 to P220.
But since there was not much technology to begin with, they relied on the existing “practical technology.” They .learned that dragon fruit prefers free draining soils with high organic matter and pH 5.3 to 6.7. It can be grown in sandy soils. It must be grown with a pole because it is shallow rooted and most of its roots are concentrated at the top (15 to 30 centimeters) of the soil.
Edita said they followed a planting distance of 3 meters between concrete poles and 4 m between rows. Four plants were planted around reach post, a few centimeters from the post, at an angle leaning towards it. But the seedlings with extensive root systems were planted 15 cm away from the post.
Right now, Edita said, they are using the following technology:
Nutrient management. Apply organic fertilizer during planting. Three months after planting, apply a handful of complete fertilizer (14-14-14) to each plant. Continue applying complete fertilizer every, three months. You may also spray foliar fertilizer every two weeks during vegetative growth.
For one- to two-year old plants, apply the following fertilizers per plant every year: 200 grams nitrogen, 100 grams phosphate, and 15 grams potash.
They have also learned that for three year-old plants, apply 500 grams nitrogen, 200 grams phosphate, and 400 to 500 grams potash per plant. Starting at four years old, apply 800 to 1000 grams nitrogen, 400 to 500 grams phosphate, and 500 to 800 grams potash per plant per year..
Crop protection. Use the following to control insect pests and fungal diseases: chlorpyrifos-based insecticides like Supremo EC, Garotec EC, and Siga 300EC, copper-based fungicides like Vitigran Blue, Dithane M45, and Mancozeb, and systemic fungicides like Indar2F, Benomyl, and carbendazim.
Pruning. Prune to obtain an open, manageable and productive umbrella shaped canopy. You may also use the cut stems as new planting materials.
Weeding. Remove the weeds within the inner 30 cm diameter of each post.
Water management. Water the plants during fertilizer application and fruiting. For newly planted seedlings, allow the soil to dry before watering them to avoid collar rot.
Harvesting. The fruits must be harvested when their color has fully turned red and the navel end is swelling or cracking. Actually, the fruit is harvested 25 to 30 days after flowering. Each plant may bear five to six fruits a year. In Pasuquin and Burgos, the plants start flowering in June and continues until October.
The fruits could be stored at 5 degrees Centigrade with 90 percent relative humidity for 40 days.
Unlike some dragon fruit growers who keep the technology to themselves and would not sell even a single cutting, the Dacuycuys are willing to share their planting materials to other people who also like to grow dragon fruit.
And for this reason, they have established a seedling nursery at their backyard in Pasuquin. Prices start at P100 for one-foot tall seedlings and increase from P150 to P300 depending on the height of the seedling.
When this writer visited the farm in December 2007, there were already more than 800 poles made of kakawati and ipil-ipil woods in the farm. The Dacuycuys have stopped using concrete poles because these are costly. As it turned out, dragon fruit grows much better on wooden poles. The plants have more roots and these are also bigger. Edita suspects that the moisture absorbed by the wood does not easily evaporate during sunny days and, hence, the roots are much bigger.
Their ingenuity can be attributed to their growing interest in dragon fruit. Their children are now involved in their newly found venture. Their daughter Mildred, went to plantations in Thailand in July 2007 to observe how the Thais grow dragon fruit. She brought home cuttings of two Thai varieties, the Thai White and the selfpollinated Thai Pink. The cuttings are now being propagated in their nursery in Pasuquin.
Their daughter Margaret, on one hand, attended the 2007, Pitaya Festival in San Diego, California to learn new developments in dragon fruit production. The Ilocos Norte Agricultural College in Pasuquin has also started to plant this exotic plant.