Growing Fruits and Veggies in Greenhouses
Veteran agriculturist Arsenio Barcelona says that adapting the greenhouse technology could really be expensive, but would benefit the farmers in the long run.
How would you like to enjoy fruits like melons, tomatoes, etc. all year round? With greenhouse technology, one can enjoy even out-of-season fruits anytime of the year.
A greenhouse is a structure built to accommodate and grow plants even in adverse weather or environmental conditions. They were developed primarily to allow agricultural activity proceed despite adverse weather conditions. This is especially true in temperate countries that experience extreme swings in weather conditions. Greenhouses in these countries are built to trap heat and protect plants from cold. In tropical countries like the Philippines, greenhouses serve a different purpose. Arsenio Barcelona, owner of Harbest Agribusiness Corporation, is one such person who distributes greenhouses as well as other agricultural supplies. According to him, a greenhouse in the country serves to protect the plants from rain, wind and pests.
Greenhouses are used in the country because of the inherent instability of the weather. We may lack winter but our seasonal weather brings us a lot of rain and wind in certain months that may damage the plants. Also because of the tropical weather in the country, we have numerous species of pests that damage crops. Taking the Philippines’ unique set of problems, greenhouses are often built with polyethylene roofing, fine mesh net and other lightweight materials to serve their purpose as shelter, windbreaker and barrier.
The greenhouse can save farmers a lot of money as well as increase one’s profit from their crops. Barcelona says there is a growing market for fresh, clean, pesticide-free vegetables that those using greenhouses can tap. Aside from this, farmers can also reduce their pesticide costs Aside from this, the greenhouse’s irrigation systems will be able to more efficiently utilize the water used in irrigation.
Greenhouses in the country comes are often constructed using indigenous materials such as bamboo. Farmers in the more remote areas often use these native greenhouses. Another widely used greenhouse model is the Israeli model. These systems however are rather expensive and unaffordable to the common farmer. That is why Harbest has introduced two types of greenhouses that were designed for the country.
One of the greenhouse models they have introduced is the Maligaya type greenhouse. This is the smallest greenhouse they have covering a 60-sqm area.
It come with its own irrigation system sufficient for 500 sqm of land. The Maligaya type is named after Mayor Maligaya of Magallanes, Cavite, who de signed and patterned it after an existing Taiwanese model. The greenhouse uses a combination of local and Taiwanese materials to ensure quality and affordability. These and other types of greenhouses could theoretically be able to grow most seasonal crops all-year round. A lot of ornamental and food plants can be grown in a greenhouse. Some of these plants are tomatoes, melons, bell peppers, cucumbers and lettuce. Ornamental plants grown in greenhouses are anthuriums and orchids. Due to the protection and stable conditions provided by the greenhouse, farmers can grow these plants all-year round without using fertilizers. This gives farmers a chance in penetrating the export organic food market.
According to Barcleona, the global organic market using greenhouse is currently dominated by Africa and South America. Given the size of the market, it would be a tremendous advantage for farmers to utilize greenhouse technology. Recognizing this, the Department of Agriculture (DA) has initiated a campaign to help promote the use of greenhouses. Already, pilot test areas have been established in Bukidnon, Baguio, Tagaytay and Mt. Pitanglad. The results from these areas are encouraging given the relative absence of problems like typhoons.
To support the efforts of the government in promoting greenhouse technology, Harbest has conducted in cooperation with the DA “techno demos” to help familiarize farmers with the technology. The techno demos are done with the LGUs as part of their protective agricultural practices program. The techno demo gives greenhouse training to around 50 to 100 farmers or municipal agriculturists. The training usually costs Php418,000. The whole package includes training costs as well as the installation of a greenhouse complete with irrigation systems. The training typically lasts 75 days.
However, even with the LGUs, support farmers have been slow in adapting greenhouse technology primarily because of the huge investment it entails. A simple greenhouse requires Php68,000 for it to be installed. This is beyond the buying capacity of a small farmer. Due to lack of capital, the farmer is forced to rely on his crops’ seasonality and its accompanying problems. But steps are being taken to economize existing greenhouse types through the adoption of local materials such as GI pipes, plastics and fine wire nets. Templates for these economized greenhouse types can be seen in Taiwanese greenhouses. But experts explain that the technology is cost efficient, meaning a farmer might invest more, but in the long rim, he w1ll also be earning more. An example of this will is the Israeli type, which can last from 5 to 10 years whereas; a Maligaya type greenhouse has a shorter return period.
The key to popularizing the use of greenhouses, according to Barcelona, is to stress this cost-efficiency angle. He emphasizes the point that by penetrating the foreign organic vegetable market, farmers would be able to earn much more than they do. But he admits that there is still a lot of room for improvement particularly in the management of greenhouses. He said that the government should try to train people in operating greenhouses. “For people to invest in greenhouses and make money, you will need skilled people to operate these greenhouses,” he enthuses.
An example of the growing popularity of farming using greenhouses can be seen in the decision of DOLE Philippines to accredit two greenhouse operators supplying them. He said that our country’s produce is at par with international standards and farmers’ yields can even be twice of what they normally harvest using traditional means. Another advantage is that one greenhouse can be operated by only one person greatly decreasing their manpower costs.
But for greenhouses to be effective in the country, several problems must be addressed. The first is the importance of training and making the greenhouses affordable to the ordinary farmer. Barcelona emphasized that one must ensure a steady supply of water. According to him, “Any high-value farming venture will be unsuccessful without water.” He said that the drip irrigation system of greenhouses allows for a more efficient use of water lowering this cost factor. He adds that our country’s slow adoption of greenhouses means our local market is not yet developed. Therefore, there should be a re-education of sort in order for the farmers to appreciate the advantages of concentrating on the high-end market. “Once people have money, they will demand higher quality vegetables.” He said most of the reluctance in adapting greenhouses is because agriculture is inherently a big risk. “It’s like gambling,” Barcelona muses. Still, he says that by improving their technology and marketing channels, farmers will be able to greatly benefit from the numerous advantages of adapting the greenhouse technology.