Olongapo SubicBay BatangGapo Newscenter

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Provincial agriculturist says ‘minimal’ El Niño effect felt in Zambales

IBA, Zambales—The El Niño phenomenon, which has affected crops in 22 areas all over the country, has spared much of the agricultural lands in this province and posed “minimal” threat to rice production this cropping season.

This was the assessment made by Russell Quitaneg, assistant provincial agriculturist, who pointed out that of some 13,000 hectares planted to rice in the second cropping season, only 300 hectares have been affected by the dry spell as of end of February.

“We are not alarmed because this is just a small percentage of the total, and most of the affected crops are late-planted palay,” Quitaneg told the BusinessMirror.

“We don’t expect much more damage to rice crops now because the cropping season would be over by the middle of March,” he added.

Despite this, Quitaneg said the Department of Agriculture (DA) has alerted all its workers in Zambales to monitor rice lands and farms and report weekly developments to prevent further damage to local crops.

The provincial agricultural office has also undertaken mitigation measures against the effects of El Niño, he said. These include the release of shallow tube wells (STWs) to affected areas and the distribution of certified seeds and fertilizer under the DA’s “Quick Recovery Program.”

One STW can irrigate about 5 hectares of rice land, he said.

The distribution of STWs, however, may come too little, too late, as Quitaneg revealed that there was some problem in the release of funds by the provincial government.

“There are 15 units of STWs we requested that are still under processing. These won’t make it before harvest time this cropping season,” he said.

Part of the problem, he added, is that the STWs do not come cheap, costing from P35,000 to P60,000 per unit.

“Because of this, the provincial office cannot commit the release of as many units as needed,” said Quitaneg.

He added that the DA head office may also send in some assistance, but this, too, “would not make it this season,” and would simply have to be made part of the agency’s rehabilitation program.

Regardless of the current dry spell and the series of typhoons that hit the province last year, Quitaneg said the agricultural industry in the province has been making inroads lately due to the increasing use of new farming technology.

“Before, the average rice yield per hectare was 3.2 tons, but this has lately increased to 4 tons,” Quitaneg said. “Now, we are aiming for a 5-ton yield per hectare.”

The increase in rice production, he added, became possible even as the total area planted to rice and other crops in the province has actually shrunk in the past few years due to land conversion.

As of now, a total of 25,000 hectares are planted to rice during the first cropping season from March to September, while about half, or 13,000 hectares, is utilized during the second cropping season from September to March.

“I would say that our program for seeds subsidy, as well as technical assistance, has really paid off. Aside from this, more farmers in the province have now updated themselves on new technologies applicable to farming in the local setting, thereby helping increase their production and income,” Quitaneg explained.

Quitaneg added that aside from aiming for self-sufficiency in rice production, the agricultural office here has been encouraging local farmers to produce more high-value crops like vegetables, corn, root crops and mango.

He said farmers also receive assistance in marketing their crops from nongovernment organizations and other groups in the private sector.

Farmers dry palay along the highway in San Marcelino, Zambales. Despite damage from natural calamities, including the current dry spell, local farmers have been actually increasing their yield, the Zambales agriculture office says. Written by Henry Empeño / businessmirror.com.ph Correspondent

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