Rice farmers have asked government to adopt a procurement system that gives them “freedom of choice” in the use of hybrid seeds suitable to their local climates instead of being limited to the lowest-cost seeds, urging government to prioritize quality over economy.
Ricardo Buenaventura, president of Nagkakaisang Magsasaka Agricultural Primary Multi Purpose Cooperative (NMAP-MPC) in Tabacalera, Nueva Ecija, said the Department of Agriculture (DA) should adopt a better system that will distribute quality hybrid seeds to farmers, not just the lowest-priced ones.
“What if the free hybrid seed does not fit their soil? What if the farmer doesn’t want it? It will be a waste of government money. It should be farmers’ choice,” he said in an interview.
Buenaventura is one of Philippines’ most successful rice farmers, routinely harvesting at least 10 metric tons (MT) of rice per hectare during the dry season, according to his cooperative’s records.
He explained he was able to achieve his high yield by maximizing seed subsidy benefits introduced during the Arroyo Administration.
Buenaventura attributed NMAP-MPC’s success to the use of the popular SL-8H hybrid rice by the cooperative’s member-farmers.
Tech assistance also needed
Buenaventura also urged government not only to encourage more hybrid seed production but also to assess hybrid seed producers’ after-sales service to farmers.
“They should look at presence of technicians to help farmers on how to use seeds. Not all seeds have technicians to help you,” he said. “We have seen many types of hybrid seeds that had come out in the market, but not all have sustained supply. They come and go,” he said.
He said that the hybrid seed SL-8H, which is produced by SL Agritech Corp.(SLAC), had helped many Nueva Ecija farmers improve their incomes.
“Here 95 percent of our farmers plant SL-8 in the dry season. Only 5 percent use other hybrids. We’ve tested it many times over. And they have technicians to help us immediately when there is any problem,” said Buenaventura.
Quality in hybrid seeds is judged on yield, compared with inbreds that typically produce only three to five MT per hectare.
The benchmark for hybrid yield is 50 percent higher than the yield for inbred varieties, although SL Agritech said that experienced farmers often harvest 10 MT or more per hectare in the dry season.
And with tough, long grains, SL-8H has high milling recovery rate of 65 to 67 percent, Buenaventura added.
Better to buy own seeds
Farmer Dennis Tejada of Esperanza, Agusan del Sur, agreed the DA’s rice sufficiency program anchored on subsidized seeds is useless without giving farmers the choice of hybrid.
“It will be a problem if the government buys seeds for farmers based on the lowest offer,” said Tejada in Filipino.
“One time they were giving us free seeds. But we rather just bought our own seeds. It’s better if it’s farmers that will choose because we’re the ones planting. We know what’s good, we know what can adapt to our climate– in a place where there’s so much rain,” he explained
Tejada said he prefers the SL-18H hybrid that yields about eight MT per hectare. SL-18H is what he has just planted for the upcoming dry harvest, at his own expense even though the government subsidy is available.
Tejada said his previous yield had given him sufficient income to choose his own seed for the next season.
Choosing a hybrid seed based on quality, rather than just low price, is also in compliance with earlier pronouncements of President Rodrigo R. Duterte that government will improve procurement system by choosing quality, not only low price in government purchases, Tejada pointed out.
“President Duterte in his program hasn’t yet given free seeds. So what farmers here did was they bought each one for himself. We bought SL-18. It has good taste. It is tender. It has a good aroma. It’s long grain. And it’s tolerant to BLB (bacterial leaf blight),” he said.
“It’s unfortunate some farmers just don’t have the cash to pay for seeds upfront, but it’s well worth the return when you get it back upon harvest,” Tejada added.
Different seeds for different conditions
Glazeline E. Cosino, of Poblacion Prosperidad, Agusan del Sur, said she found SL-18H even better for her climate.
“We told our MAO (municipal agriculture officer) when she met with us about 20 hybrid users that we should be able to choose our seed. Before, they gave us free seeds. Yield was acceptable, but the eating quality is not so good. Its grain has not been fully filled even if we had a full 120-day term which is why I didn’t buy it again,” she said.
“They wanted us to convince our neighbors to go into hybrid, but we told our MAO if you will give us seeds, you might as well give us what we know and what we have already proven to be good seeds because you might give us something not good for our soil.”
Cosino was one of the first ones to use hybrid in Agusan del Sur seven years ago, and has gained experience on what variety works best.
“Before I was using SL-8, but now I like SL-18 better. It has longer tiller. SL-18 can give 15 to 20 more cavans than SL-8. We capitalized on it—it’s good really. Maybe it’s better for our climate where it’s always raining. With another kind of seed, I did not get 100 cavans so I didn’t get it again,” she said.
Cosino reaped 330 cavans at a hefty 65 kilos per cavan from her three hectares in the last dry season. This equivalent to 7.15 MT per hectare based on the usual 50-kilo per cavan.