Meet a Lady Agriculturist Obsessed with Bio-N
Several years back, government agriculturists were devolved to the local governments. This, meant that instead of the national government paying for their salaries, it became the responsibility of the municipal governments to give them their assignments as well as their monthly compensation.
On paper, that looks great. After all, it is the local authorities who know what agricultural projects that are appropriate for their own towns, and they could be more efficient in producing positive results. However, it has also its disadvantages. If the mayor, for instance, is not interested in agriculture (as a good number are), farming could be relegated to the back seat. Even if an agriculturist is assigned to a town, he or she could accomplish very little if funds are not allocated for undertaking activities that will benefit the farmers.
On the other hand, if the mayor is supportive to the town’s agriculturist, a lot of good things could happen. Just like the case of Lea Beltran, a lady agriculturist in charge of the Bio-N production center in Tigaon, Camarines Sur. She is well supported by the present mayor, youthful Arnie Fuentebella, and she is doing a very good job in her assignment.
Bio-N, by the way, is a bacterial plant growth promotant which can help farmers reduce the amount of chemical fertilizers applied in growing rice, corn and other crops. It comes in powder form and is used to inoculate seeds for planting. It can also be applied in some other ways. Through the act of the nitrogen fixing bacteria in Bio-N, nitrogen from the air is captured and fixed in the soil to nourish the plants. Thus the need for chemical fertilizers is reduced.
Today, the Bio-N production center has become a money-maker for the town of Tigaon, thanks to Lea Beltran who is obsessed with the microbial plant growth enhancer. From the time Mayor Fuentebella assumed office in July 2007, the Department of Agriculture has already bought P6,629,000 worth of Bio-N for use in the rice and corn program of the national government. The latest order from the DA was for 20,000 packets worth P1.24 million. Aside from that, there are also sales to individual farmers who have realized the benefits from applying Bio-N to their crops.
The profit margin from Bio-N is quite substantial. The average cost of production is about P25 per packet of 200 grams. On the other hand, the average selling price is P60 per packet. However, if it is sold to farmers from Tigaon, a big discount is given.
Production of Bio-N is going on very well. The center is expected to produce even bigger volumes in the coming months. Through the efforts of Mayor Fuentebella, the Department of Science and Technology has approved a grant of half a million pesos for the upgrading of the facilities of the production center. Lea said they will buy a new hammermill and additional laboratory equipment.
With the profit from the Bio-N operation, the local government has been able to undertake other projects for the benefit of farmers. Production of hybrid rice seeds has been undertaken on five hectares. The certified seeds enable the farmers to increase their yields, and they also buy their seeds at a cheaper price than elsewhere. While the usual price of certified seeds is P1,200 per bag of 40 kilos, the farmers from Tigaon only pay P800 per bag.
Lea has also come up with another project that turns the corn cobs into some thing of value. And that is converting them into charcoal. She has designed a drum for carbonizing corn cobs which are abundant in Tigaon. A portion of the charcoal produced is used as material for making Bio-N. The rest is made into charcoal briquettes for use as cooking fuel. They have a briquetting machine at the Bio-N center.
Part of the income from Bio-N has also been used to fix an old building that will provide additional space for the operation. A delivery vehicle has also been purchased. Promotional activities are also being undertaken. Training of agriculturists and farmers from various parts of Bicol on how to use Bio-N is conducted now and then.
Lea Beltran’s love affair with Bio-N started in late 2004 when she was chosen by the Department of Science and Technology as one of 30 agriculturists from different parts of the country to train on Bio-N production at the Biotech in UP Los Banos. She was the lone candidate from Bicol. Unfortunately, she could not go on official trip because there was no fund from the municipal government for her trip. But because she was so interested in the training, she borrowed P2,000 from a fellow agriculturist (Jose Formalejo) in addition to P1,000 of her own for her fare and other expenses.
Upon returning to Tigaon after the training, she was eager to produce Bio-N but then there was no money from the municipality to start with. Once more, she borrowed money from her fellow agriculturist to buy the raw materials. With the P3,000 she borrowed, she was able to produce 500 packets worth P30,000, practically doing all the work herself. Of the 500 packets, she was able to sell 300 worth P18,000. The 200 packets were used for free demonstration.
With that first experience, she was really convinced that commercially producing Bio-N was a profitable venture. She used the proceeds to produce more Bio-N which were sold to the DA and to individual farmers. The operation went on well but then most of the profits were used to buy corn seeds for free distribution to farmers during the 2007 elections. The Bio-N center all of a sudden became poor again.
Lea had a big problem when Arnie Fuentebella, the new mayor, took office in July 2007. Lea had a big order for Bio-N from the Department of Agriculture but she did not have the money to buy the raw materials such as the pure culture of the bacteria from Biotech, the packaging materials and others.
Lea explained to the new mayor the benefits that could be derived from the project. Fortunately, Mayor Fuentebella is pro-agriculture. He advanced his own money to buy some of the needed equipment and materials. He also detailed 10 workers to work in the Bio-N project. Since then, production has steadily increased and Bio-N production has become a very profitable operation.
By using Bio-N, farmers can reduce the amount of chemical fertilizers usually applied under the old system of fertilization. Lea cites the case of Rebecca Purisima who plants corn. She used to fertilizer one hectare of corn with three bags of urea and three bags of complete fertilizer. She averaged 4.5 to 5 tons per hectare. Today she inoculates her seeds with five packets of Bio-N worth P300 and applies only one bag urea and one bag of complete fertilizer per hectare. With this, she averages 5.5 to 6 tons per hectare. Thus, she saves a lot on chemical fertilizers (4 bags) per hectare, yet her yield increases by about one ton per hectare. Similar increases in yield and savings on fertilizers are also true in rice.
Lea, 52, is an agriculture graduate from the Camarines Sur State College of Agriculture in Pili. She is married to Enrico Beltran, a security officer of her alma mater. Lea is really a dedicated agriculturist obsessed with producing and promoting the use of Bio-N.