• Water lack bugs Bulacan rice farms

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    PLARIDEL, BULACAN: Rice farmers in Bulacan have started planting crops amid a dry spell, hoping the rains would augment the meager irrigation supply in the province.

    Santiago Bernardo, a 58-year old farmer from this town, said the planting season usually begins in late June or July but it was only in the first week of August that they started because of lack of irrigation.

    “I decided to start planting my crops this week following several days of rainfall in Bulacan. The water we use in cultivating the land came from rains,” Bernardo told The Manila Times in an interview, while helping other farmers plant rice in his one-hectare land.

    Despite the persisting effects of El Niño or the prolonged period of below-normal rainfall, Bernardo is hopeful that the water, which will come from rains and irrigation, will be enough to grow his crops and to harvest it after three months.

    “It’s rainy season, so we expect frequent rains and the Angat dam to have enough water supply in the coming weeks or months,” Bernardo, who has been into farming since he was a child, said.

    50 percent planted
    Benardo’s land is among the 16,200 hectares of farmlands in Bulacan that have been planted with crops amid the meager water supply coming from the irrigation canals managed by the National Irrigation Administration (NIA), according to government data.

    Provincial Agriculture Officer Gloria Carillo told The Times that the planted farmlands comprised of only half of Bulacan’s total agriculture land, with the rest still waiting for normalcy of irrigation supply. There are at least 31,000 hectares of irrigated farmland in the province.

    The figure is far from the 80 to 90 percent of farmlands that were planted during the same month in the previous years, she noted.

    This despite the return to operational level for irrigation of Angat Dam, which is the main source of water of Angat-Maasim Rivers Irrigation System that services up to 27,000 hectares of farmlands in Bulacan and Pampanga.

    Carillo, citing information from NIA, said the flow of water in the irrigation canals has been “slow” while other areas have yet to be reached by irrigation.

    For intervention, she said the provincial government has distributed at least 10 irrigation pump sets to several farmlands and is scheduled to distribute another 20 sets this August. The use of the pump sets, however, is still subject to the availability of water supply in the beneficiary-farmlands.

    She said farmers in areas with minimal to no irrigation supply have been “gambling” by planting crops with no assurance of water supply, while the others are completely relying on rainwater irrigation through the rainfed agriculture method.

    Over the weekend, the province experienced light to heavy rainfall from a thunderstorm.

    Carillo said the provincial agriculture office is still hopeful that NIA would allot more water for their irrigation needs so Bulcan can sustain its rice production this year, despite the national government’s forecast on loss of agricultural product nationwide.

    Bulacan has been recognized by the Department of Agriculture as one of the top rice producing provinces in the country for three consecutive years, with production of 368,393 metric tons of rice in 2014, according to the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics.

    “We are hoping to cope with the effects of dry season in the province. Last year, farmers tried to plant rice despite minimal irrigation and rainfall, and some of them succeeded. Some farmers will do it again, and we hope it will survive again,” she said

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