Squash Is Also A Money Maker
Bukidnon and Misamis Oriental might as well be called the country’s squash capital. From these two provinces, hundreds of tons of squash fruits, particularly the Suprema variety, are shipped to Metro Manila every week. Big quantities are likewise sent to Cebu City, Bacolod, Samar and even to other places in Mindanao.
The big traders (who have also become growers at the same time) are Rumel Castilla of Malaybalay City and Virgie Llido of Cagayan de Oro City. Every week Castilla ships at least 10 container vans of squash to his four buyers in Manila, each van containing eight tons. He also has three buyers in Cebu who also buy by the vanload. Virgie also ships several container vans each week to her buyers in Divisoria and Balintawak. In addition, she usually sends six container vans a week to Cebu City, four to Bacolod, and smaller quantities to buyers in Samar.
The Suprema, a hybrid squash variety released by the East-West Seed Company in 1987, has become the favorite of Northern Mindanao growers. Although a number of squash varieties have been released by the same company as well as other seed suppliers, Suprema continues to be the preferred variety. And for a number of good reasons. First, it is glutinous (maligat in Tagalog) which is preferred by most consumers. The variety is high-yielding and is also resistant to pests and diseases. Sometimes, it could be affected by a leaf curling disease, but the infection is not as often as in the case of other varieties. And this problem is often remedied by crop rotation or planting next time some other crop (corn, for instance) in the same field.
One other reason why farmers love to plant squash is that it does not require much attention. Also, it does not require a big capital to produce. Unlike some high-value vegetables, it does not need any trellis or stake to climb on. The vines are simply allowed to crawl on the ground. No expensive greenhouse is necessary. And the seeds are cheaper than say hybrid tomato or eggplant.
The farmgate price is relatively low compared to other high-value vegetables. When the supply is plentiful, the price could be as low as R4 per kilo. When it is in short supply, it may fetch R12 per kilo. But because the cost of inputs is minimal, it is still profitable to grow this crop even at the lower price. Rumel Castilla has been planting Suprema on 20 hectares of land he owns and 10 hectares of rented land in one year. He says that his cost of production was an average of R8,000 per hectare last year. He got an average yield of 12 tons per hectare, so even if he had sold his harvest at the minimum price of R4 per kilo, the margin was still a significant R40,000 per hectare. Being a trader himself, Rumel surely got a better price than R4 per kilo for his own production.
Of course, when grown in an ideal soil with adequate fertilization, Suprema could yield much more than 12 tons per hectare. In fact, Pacifico Ramos Jr. of Malaybalay says that he can get as much as 30 tons per hectare. That’s because his soil is perfect for squash and he also applies a lot of chicken manure from his own poultry project. Ramos is the biggest contract breeder of Swift Company and he is taking care of more than 100,000 breeding fowls at any one time.
Ramos has been continuously planting two crops of Suprema squash each year since 1991. Although he plants his squash in traditional corn fields, he also plants a lot in between his more than 20 chicken houses. He likewise grows the vine vegetable as a cover crop in his seven-hectare orchard planted to longkong lanzones, durian and rambutan.
The Suprema growers, even the small-scale ones, are benefiting a lot from Suprema. The profit margin is good and squash is grown virtually throughout the year. Thus, cash flow for the farmers is throughout the year. Even if they just average one or two hectares, the income can support a family in the countryside with some savings for the children’s schooling, to boot. Rumel Castilla says that he buys the harvests of no less than 100 farmers from Malaybalay and other towns that include Buda, Quezon, Kitaotao, and Cabanglasan. In the case of Virgie Llido, she buys her supplies from farmers in both Bukidnon and Misamis Oriental. Of course, she also has her own production from 32 hectares that one landowner has mortgaged to her.
Naturally, traders like Rumel and Virgie are among big biggest beneficiaries of Suprema. Both are rags-to-riches stories. Rumel, now 38, migrated to Malaybalay from Loon, Bohol, when he was 25 and for a couple of years worked as a houseboy. After he got married, he went on his own, selling garlic and other basic necessities. He would buy a few kilos of garlic, repack them into small packs and sell them to sari-sari stores as well as to end-users. His big break came when he met a big vegetable dealer from Manila who made him as his Suprema buyer in Bukidnon. Now, he is really a big trader of nothing but Suprema. At the age of 38, the former houseboy is now a multi-millionaire in his own right.
Virgie Llido, a high school graduate, now 65 and a widow since 1993, used to be a very small vegetable vendor in the public market in Cagayan de Oro. Her big break came in 1991 when she received a call from a vegetable dealer from Manila looking for a lady from Iligan who used Virgie’s phone as her contact number in Cagayan de Oro. The Manila caller was in dire need of two container vans of Suprema squash. Because the lady from Iligan could not be contacted, the Manila caller asked Virgie to handle the buying and shipping of her requirement. She sent her the money needed and that was the start of her good fortune. Since then she has become the supplier of that Manila caller, and several other big distributors in Manila and the Visayas have been added to her clientele. She is now a multi-millionaire herself. Seven of her eight children have graduated from college and are all well-placed in their own professions, thanks to Suprema.
Of course, East-West Seed Company continues to reap its rewards from Suprema as farmers continue to patronize it. By the way, this champion squash was bred by Daisy Caraos, a Los Banos graduate who joined the company when it started some 26 years ago.