By Emily B. Bordado

Some years back corn production in the town of Calabanga was only the sixth choice among local farmers after upland rice, coconut, coffee, abaca and rootcrops. It was usually planted as an intercrop with upland rice or even rootcrops especially by farmers who are rearing livestock or pigs or chicken as the corn is a major animal feed ingredient.

Today corn production is a flourishing industry in the municipality. In fact Calabanga has earned the distinction of being the biggest corn producer in terms of area not only in Camarines Sur province but in the entire region. From a measly 276 hectares cultivated by a handful of farmers in 2000 it has now a total physical area of 3,447 hectares planted to hybrid yellow corn with an estimated 6,894 hectares effective area considering that corn production has two croppings. There are 1,580 farmers in the municipality engaged in yellow corn production.

Mayor Eduardo A. Severo attributes this steady growth of the corn industry in their municipality to several factors among which are: sustained good price of corn over the past years; introduction of new hybrid corn varieties with high yield potential. He added that “the provision of farm equipment and post-harvest facilities like corn shellers, flatbed dryers, solar dryers, tractors and warehouses by the Department of Agriculture and PhilMech was a big help as it reduces spoilage and losses. Moreover, the opening and construction of new roads in the upland and hinterland barangays was also one of the growth drivers to the corn industry.” the mayor rationalizes.

Municipal Agriculturist Gil Gabriel H. Bordado III (who is soon retiring) also explained that the farmers adoption of improved technologies and practices, the clustering approach and the availability of financing and market offered by traders were also major factors which contributed to the upscaling of the corn industry in the municipality and which merited its winning the prestigious National Quality Corn Achievers Award as one of the Outstanding Municipalities with a cash prize of P1M for three consecutive years and thereafter elevated to the Hall of Fame with the corresponding P2M cash grant. Bordado and the three corn technicians Joshua Ipo, Ryan Calatraba and Eng. Carlos Azanes in the municipality were similarly conferred national recognition and cash awards for their significant contribution to the development of the corn industry as extension workers in their municipality.

“The clustering strategy for the corn areas has brought about the economies of scale”, says Lorenzo Alvina, the DA regional corn program coordinator. He explains that a corn cluster should have at least 200 hectares contiguously located, with an organized and registered farmers’ organization with a complete set of officers. Each cluster should have a development plan but in a municipality like Calabanga that has multiple clusters a municipal development plan or road map should be formulated or adopted by the LGU.

At present there are 16 operational corn cluster organizations in Calabanga. These clusters are registered with the Department of Labor and Employment and accredited by the Sangguniang Bayan.

Renante Ferraris, chairperson of the Comaguingking Farmers Association which is also among the very active corn clusters in the municipality cites the advantages of having an organization and a cluster: “Dahil kami ay grupo at organisado pag ani namin ng mais may volume of production kami kaya as a group madali namin itong maibebenta”.

The group of Mr. Ferraris which has 60 members became a recipient of DA’S interventions such as mechanical corn dryer with 6 tons capacity a mechanical corn sheller and 7 units knapsack sprayers and corn seeds. This year they received 19 bags of corn seeds. The knapsack sprayers are being rented by the association at Ph20/day.

While some clusters have established their own marketing agreement with local existing buyers some of them are also being assisted by DA’s Agribusiness and Marketing Assistance Division (AMAD) is assisting farmers in forging marketing agreement with potential buyers. The current price range of dried corn is Ph13 to Ph14 per kilo. There was time when it even spiked to P17 per kilo.

Most of the corn farmers in the area are using fertilizers either pure commercial or a combination of commercial fertilizer and organic. Chicken manure which is abundant in the municipality as there are a number of poultry farms operating in the locality is being used as organic fertilizer. At 5 metric tons per hectare yield a farmer will gain P31,195 per hectare, while attaining 8 metric tons/ha yield will result to a P75,958 per hectare net income per cropping.

Barangay council member and chair of the agriculture committee Kagawad Nicolas Palma noted that farmers used to be at the mercy of businessmen: “Pugol kan mga negosyante ang mga paraoma. Pero ngonian na organisado sinda napoproteksiyunan ang interes ninda”.

As the corn area in their barangay is expanding and their production is increasing they need more drying facilities. Their mechanical corn sheller is in need of repair and their mechanical dryer has to be checked by the supplier for some adjustment for it to function and perform optimally. The association has also requested assistance from the LGU for canopy awning to be attached around the building structure which houses the mechanical dryer. Said structure has only roofing and posts without solid walls but only metal screen, thus the dryer is exposed to rain.

The officers have also seen the need for them to have a multipurpose drying pavement and Eduardo Llado, the vice chair disclosed that his son–in law is offering to donate an additional area just beside the mechanical dryer where the drying pavement could be constructed. Another vital infrastructure that the cluster needs is a warehouse where they can store their corn especially on rainy days. They are preparing a resolution which they intend to forward to the LGU and the DA or other agencies for possible assistance.

Concreting of the barangay road leading to the higher and hinterland areas of the barangay is on-going which is welcome development for the corn farmers and the residents as this will facilitate easy and fast transport of their produce, improve mobility and open more economic opportunities.

“Ito ang maganda pag organisado kaming mga magsasaka, pag may problema napaguusapan at madaling maresolba o magawan ng solusyon.”, says chairman Ferraris.

Agriculture Secretary William Dar is aggressively pushing for the clustering and consolidation of farmlands as one of the strategies to level up Philippine agriculture. He noted that it will be easier and more cost efficient and effective for the DA with organized farmers through farmers cooperatives and association than individual farmers “as we provide them appropriate training and cutting-edge technologies, including farm inputs like seeds and fertilizers, and farm equipment and machinery”.

The agriculture chief explained that clustered and consolidated farms will be offered incentives on top of the regular technical and marketing assistance. “Incentives will come in the form of farm machinery, such as tractors, harvesters, mechanical dryers and processing equipment and related infrastructure.” He said.

The old adage which says: “if you wish to make an impact for only one year, plant corn” has been proven wrong and dispelled by the corn farmers of Calabanga as they have been planting corn for two decades now and they continue to earn and reap the benefits as the industry continue to thrive and even upscale to higher level.