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Soils Mapping Is Very Important

Recently we had the good fortune of joining a dinner with Dr. William Dar, the director general of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in Hyderabad, India.

The dinner was tendered by our friend Toto Barcelona of Harbest Agribusiness which was attended by agri-people like Dr. Rolly Dy of the University of Asia and the Pacific, Dr. Joy Eusebio of PCAARRD and Dr. Pons Batugal of a foundation engaged in rural development.

If he were to recommend something that would help the Philippines produce not only more rice but also other crops, what would Dr. Dar recommend?

 

Massive soil mapping would be a priority. He related that in a recent year, they implemented a soil mapping project on one million hectares in India. In soil mapping, they wanted to find out what plant nutrients are available in the soil and what are lacking. The trace elements or micronutrients status is particularly important.

By knowing the status of the soil, the experts will know what to tell the farmers in managing their fertilization systems. And by providing just the right amounts needed in particular areas, the farmers will not only increase their yields, they will most likely save on unnecessary fertilizers that they usually apply without considering what nutrients are actually present in their farms.

Dr. Dar recommends a really massive soils mapping in the country. He said that the Department of Agriculture has a lot of money but it may not be the best for the DA to do the mapping by itself. A more practical way would be to involve, say 14 or 16 state colleges and universities in different regions in the country. The first thing that the DA should do is to fund the establishment of state-of-the-art soils laboratories in the agricultural universities and colleges. He said that with P10 million for each educational institution, they would be able to put up very good soils laboratories.

A soils map is a most important tool that could significantly increase yields and profits. A few years back, Dr. Dar said, they only had a target of 20 percent yield increase in the mapping of one million hectares in India.

To their pleasant surprise, Dr. Dar said, the yield increased 40 percent on the one million hectares. That is why they are now finalizing a project that will map the soils on four million hectares.

In the Philippines, after the massive soil mapping, what next? There should be a pool of trained technicians that would help the farmers in coming up with the right amounts of fertilizers applied at the right time. Efficient massive extension service is a must in disseminating the right technologies on plant nutrition management.

Also very important is the availability of the macro and micronutrients that would be needed by the farmers at reasonable and affordable rates. Only then the benefits of massive soils mapping would be realized.

MINDING THE BOTTOM LINE – We gathered that the Department of Agriculture will soon launch a farming derby whereby farmers will compete with each other not in producing the highest yield but the highest profit. That’s minding the bottom line.

How will the mechanics be implemented? Will the farmers grow the same crop on the same number of square meters? Or should they plant the same area with crops of their choice and then find out which of them will make more money after deducting all their production expenses?

Profits could differ, depending on how smart is the farmer in marketing his produce. There are really many variables which could determine the best bottom line.

By Zac B. Sarian