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Natural Farming Transforms a Formerly Run-Down Farm

Helen’s Farm in Joaquin Biao, Calinan district, Davao City, had become a run-down 30-hectare farm after more than two decades of continued use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. The soil had become acidic and the cacao trees that were about 20 years old had become sickly. The trees had few small yellowish leaves and they yielded very few fruits, most of them damaged by pod borers. The soil was virtually dead because the beneficial microorganisms had been killed by the chemicals.

That’s how Andry Lim described his family’s farm which he was assigned to manage starting 2001. Previously, he was working for a tribal mission foundation that conducted community development activities among the tribes in Mindanao, helping them earn a living Andry and Joji Lim with fruitful cacao tree. from farming.

His taking over the management of Helen’s Farm gave him an opportunity to put into practice what he loves to call Natural Farming that he learned while he was connected with the tribal mission foundation. He had the good fortune of attending a seminar on natural farming in 1997 conducted by Dr. Cho Hayn Yu, a Korean natural farming expert who was invited to Davao by a Korean missionary.

Rehabilitating the sickly cacao trees was a big challenge that Andry faced right from the start. But he was undaunted. He was very confident that the techniques he had learned from Dr. Cho would work. And he was right.

What he did was to produce his own fermented fruit and plant juices (FFJ and FPJ), fish amino acid (FAA) and oriental herbal nutrient (OHN). He mixed the different fermented juices and added two tablespoons to a liter of water. He sprayed this on the sickly cacao trees once a week. After just two weeks, Andry said that new leaves had come out. Not long after, profuse flowers followed.

From then on, he kept spraying the thousands of trees planted on more than three hectares of the property. And since then, the trees have become healthy and productive. The leaves have become big and glossy. The trees have been bearing fruits virtually throughout the year. Even as the fruits are maturing on the trunks and branches, new flowers keep on coming out.

Now that the trees have become very robust, Andry sprays his fermented juices just once a month. There are two peak harvest seasons during the year, and these are the months of November to December and April to May. During these months he harvests an average of 200 kilos of wet beans every two weeks. During what he calls the off-season months, the average harvest is 150 kilos of wet beans every two weeks.

Andry sells his beans to another cacao grower who has fermenting and drying facilities, also in Davao City. The current price is P25 per kilo.

To protect the fruits from pod borer, a most serious pest of cacao, every fruit is bagged with thin plastic. Bagging is quite easy with a device made of a two inch plastic pipe that is used to reach the fruits on the tree. The plastic bags are placed at one end of the pipe that may be a couple of meters long. By a simple manipulation, the plastic bag is put in place with a rubber band. This device was copied from Indonesia.

By the way, the cacao trees are interspersed with other crops like bananas and coconuts. These crops have also benefited from the fermented plant juices sprayed primarily on the cacao trees. They have become productive, too.

CASH CROPS
In one portion of the property Andry grows a lot of high-value vegetables such as lettuce, spring onion, spinach, celery, eggplant, ampalaya, beans, tomato and many others. These are also grown the natural farming way. The garden beds as well as the plants are sprayed with his concoctions of beneficial microorganisms. Decomposed leaves of leguminous plants are also incorporated to enrich the soil.

Andry employs practical natural farming ways in growing his vegetables. He staggers his planting of the different varieties so that he has a continuous supply of the right quantity at the right time. He practices crop rotation to avoid buildup of insects and disease organisms. He grows plants that repel insects together with the main crop of vegetables. Mint and lemongrass are two such plants that repel insects.

He plants a row of leguminous shrubs along the edges of the garden plots. The purpose is to prevent erosion of the planting beds. Another purpose is to have rich leafy twigs ready for use as green manure. Some may also be harvested to feed livestock on the farm.

What’s good about Andry’s operation is that all his vegetables are sold through the family’s supermarket in Davao City. They own a shopping mall.

A DIFFERENT KIND OF PIGGERY
When Andry took over management of Helen’s Farm, he started a piggery that is operated the natural farming way. It is different from the ordinary piggery you and I are familiar with. For one, it does not exude the familiar foul odor that neighbors would complain about. Yet the pigs don’t get bathed at all throughout their life. The pigpens are not washed at all as is the practice in conventional piggeries. Hence, there is no need for a lagoon where the water used in the daily cleaning is directed.

Instead of the usual cement floor found in commercial piggeries, the pigpens are excavated one meter deep then filled with a mixture of sawdust, clean soil and a little salt. To be more specific, for every 10 sacks of sawdust, 5 sacks of soil and one kilo of salt are mixed together. The mixture serves as the bedding that absorbs the manure as well as the urine of the animals.

And why doesn’t the pigpen have the usual foul odor? It is because Andry also uses his concoctions of indigenous microorganisms (IMO) that he uses in his cacao and other crops. He explains that the bad bacteria that cause the bad smell are suppressed by the beneficial microorganisms. When the pigpen is new, the bedding is sprayed with the IMO every week for the first few months. After that, spraying is done only once or twice a month.

In other words Andry’s pigpens are ‘infected’ with beneficial indigenous microorganisms right from the beginning to kill the harmful bacteria. On the other hand, in the ordinary piggery, the pigpens are ‘disinfected’ with chemicals that kill both the bad and the good microorganisms.

Andry’s pigs are fat and contented despite the fact that they are fed only once a day with his own feed formulation. The pigs don’t get excited even when visitors arrive. They just lie there on their comfortable beds. The piglets may be acting playfully, some burrowing in the bedding. Andry explains that by burrowing in the bedding, both the piglets and the mature ones get the minerals they need for their good health.

That is why there is no need for injecting or vaccinating the pigs with veterinary drugs.

Instead of antibiotics, Andry uses in his own feed formulation the various fermented extracts that he and his wife Joji make. His feed formulation is as follows: For every 100 kilos of rice bran, he adds 50 kilos of cracked yellow corn, 10 kilos of soya meal (5 kilos if for young pigs), 5 kilos copra meal and 3 kilos salt. To these, he also adds 2 to 3 liters of fermented fruit juice and plant juice, 2 liters of fish amino acid, and one liter each of oriental herbal nutrient and lactic acid bacteria serum. He also incorporates 2 to 3 kilos of powdered coconut shell charcoal to help prevent diarrhea.

By the way, Andry said he used to encounter occasional incidence of diarrhea among piglets in the early days. That was when he was sourcing some of his piglets from outside farms. Now that he produces all his piglets for finishing, he rarely encounters such problem anymore.

Andry’s feed costs only P15 per kilo compared to the usual P27 per kilo of the commercial feeds available in the market. That is the reason why his cost of production per kilo live weight is only about P55 compared to the P75 or more of the commercial formulations.

Andry feeds his pigs with his formulation at four o’clock in the afternoon. Those that are two to three months old are given a kilo while the bigger ones are fed 2.5 kilos each. Before that, at 3 p.m., the pigs are fed about a kilo each of green feeds that include what is usually known as Madre de Agua, ornamental peanut, Flemingia, Rensonii and many others. The more varied the green feed, the better because they contain different nutrients. Some have herbal attributes while others are high in protein and other nutrients. All these green forage crops are grown on the farm in combination with other crops.

It takes about four to five months for the fatteners to reach market size of 80 kilos each. While Andry’s production tion cost is much lower than most other commercial hog growers, he sells his pork at P10 per kilo higher than the conventionally produced pork. He has no problem selling his pork in the supermarket owned by his family. He usually slaughters 12 head per week but he intends to double that soon because the demand is increasing for his naturally farmed pork. In fact, one Manilan who has a meat shop selling dressed free range chickens is thinking of importing Andry’s pork. Sandy Itchon of Solraya Enterprises says she has customers looking for the kind of pork that Andry produces.

Andry Lim is a happy and contented man with a very supportive life partner in the person of Joji Gamboa Lim. He is generous in sharing his experiences and know-how in natural farming. He is often invited to conduct seminars on his favorite topic. And he welcomes visitors to his farm.