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Improved Production Technology for Dragon Fruit

Native to Central and South America, dragon fruit(Hylocereus undatus) or pitaya is gaining its own niche in the Philippine market.

Although this vine-line cactus is widely cultivated in Malaysia, Vietnam, and Thailand, where the weather is conducive for growing this humid-loving crop, it has reached the Philippines just recently. It has economic value and competitive advantage in the local fruit industry, so more and more Filipino farmers and fruit processors are getting interested in it.

Production technology, however, remains a major constraint since dragon fruit is relatively new in the country.

Thus in 2003, a technology demonstration on dragon fruit production was held at the Central Experiment Station of the Southern Mindanao Integrated Agricultural Research Center (SMIARC) in Manambulan, Tugbok, Davao City.

Funded by the Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR) through its Agribusiness Development Project (ADP), the techno-demo project primarily aimed to showcase technology on the production of dragon fruit. Its objectives are also to mass propagate and distribute planting materials to regional research station and interested growers, and to determine its economic value. It is lead by Noel T. Estellena, SMIARC senior agriculturist and lead researcher for the ADP on dragon fruit.

SMIARC started establishing dragon fruit production in three-fourth hectare, and planting materials initially came from Indang, Cavite.

Among the technologies showcased in the experimental station were propagation by cuttings, appropriate distance of planting, use of concrete posts and indigenous materials as trellis for vine  growth, application of organic fertilizer,  and proper cultural management practices.

Estellena said that dragonfruit can be propagated through seeds or stem cuttings, but the latter is much preferred.

“We plant the cuttings in plastic bags for two months and then transfer them in an open field. The recommended planting distance is 3 m between posts and 4 m between rows,” he said

He added that proper distance of planting is important since narrower spacing results in quicker production than larger spacing.

Dragon fruit must be planted in an open field with direct exposure to sunlight. ,It is not good to plant the crop in areas where rainfall is well distributed. One technology that SMIARC uses in the plantation is the trellis method. Estellena said that the survival of the dragon fruit is in the trellis. Once the trellis collapses, the plant hardly survives.

The life span of dragon fruit is around 20 years, depending on the durability of the trellis. Concrete posts with iron round bar on top are used to support the plants. This has to be established three weeks prior to crop establishment. At the SMIARC, various indigenous materials such as madre de cacao, kalumpang, and magcuno tree are also used besides concrete posts.

Regarding nutrient management, a combination of organic and complete fertilizer (14-14-14) and urea (46-0-0) is applied. “We use more organic and more nitrogen. The ideal way is to apply fertilizer every three months, if possible. But what we do at the station is we apply every six months. We [fertilize each plant with] 2 kg of organic, 25 g urea, and 75 g complete fertilizer,” Estellena said.

He added that pruning is also important in the production of dragon fruit. Regular pruning, he explained, is necessary to obtain an open, manageable and productive umbrella shape canopy, and will induce new shoots for the next cropping season. It is also important to prune after harvest.

It would take about 26 months for the crop to bear fruits, and harvest must be done 35-40 days after the flower opening.

The BAR recently visited the technodemo farm to document the success of the ADP project. Five years after its establishment, the farm is frequently visited by farmers and buyers in Davao City. And with the successful production technologies, more opportunities, both in production and marketing of dragon fruit, lie ahead.

The economic potential of dragon fruit is bright for it commands a very high price in he local market, says Estellena. It costs P120-P150 per kilo. He also said that a three-year-old dragon fruit farm can produce 5t/ha – 6t/ha worth P720,000, based on the cost of the fruit in the local market alone. No wonder that dragon fruit is now dubbed as the new money crop.

Presently, the group of Estellana is distributing planting materials to interested growers, besides demonstrating production technologies. In fact since the establishment of the techno-demo farm, the group has distributed around 3,000 seedlings/cuttings to sites in Nueva Ecija, Bohol, and Bukidnon for trial productions.

By Rita T. Dela Cruz