Strawberries in May
Until the introduction of plastic greenhouse technology for strawberry production sometime in 2010, native strawberries were abundant from December until March only.
In the advent of the bagged soil, delivery of fertilizers by drip technique and watering through spray system in metal shelves to increase planting area by three or four times, strawberries are harvested at least three times a week for delivery to the market almost year – round. For this reason, strawberry prices have remained from P300 to P450 a kilo and the size and quality assured. The recent extended community quarantine (ECQ) has drastically affected the production of strawberries and the harvest schedule. The supply of strawberries in May in the market have become scarce and recently, almost zero because there are no buyers and farmers were barred from tending their farms.
Jose Antonio Mendoza, 42, founder of Green Leaf Concepts, Services & Products Co. and agriculture consultant, has promoted the greenhouse strawberry production as a backyard garden livelihood source aggressively for the past three years.
He said that strawberry planting starts sometime in August or September each year. This is the time when new planting materials and new beds are prepared. Strawberries peak from December through May and taper when the rainfall increases for open field farmers.
The greenhouse strawberries are the ones delivered from June to October and keep production in full circle. Mendoza said strawberries took a beating during the ECQ when the prices dropped to P50 a kilo because there was no demand due to the lockdown.
“We had to donate most of the strawberries harvested fromFebruary to April to hospitals for the health workers because the anticipated volume sales during Panagbenga Festival and Holy Week dropped to zero,” Mendoza said.
“It was a good source of vitamin C,” he added, as strawberries contain mineral that increased the immunity in humans, particularly the exposed frontline health workers. He noted that from a demand of 1,000 kilos three times a week from January to February, there were no more volume orders to fill with the ripening fruits ready in the open fields and greenhouses.“We lost a lot of money,” he lamented.
Forty-year-old agriculturist Sammy Lang-aysaid he studied agriculture in Japan and Hawaii. It was in Hawaii where he saw that the technology used in the production of San Adreas strawberries that could be applicable here.
He said that they had strawberry gardens at the La Trinidad swamp area until the quality of irrigation water was unsafe. He moved his farm to Sto. Tomas Proper in Baguio and later invited his relatives and neighbors to produce strawberries in their yards too. With a farm area of more than two hectares, he pays people to help harvest the strawberries or prepare strawberry seedlings. He proudly says that everyone in their community is busy, even children have no time to be idle.
He added the strawberries produced in his farm are organic. While there is no demand for strawberries, seedlings are being prepared by the neighborhood.
Mendoza, for his part, said that with the help of Lang-ay as a partner, they have assisted farmers of La Trinidad and some willing investors in urban gardening in finding extra income from strawberries. He added that strawberry production is lucrative and a good livelihood for the indigent residents. The technology is transferred and all the materials provided for the farmer or resident to ensure success.
“All interested parties need to identify the area where the greenhouse can be set. We can work in an area of 60-square meter at least,” he said, adding that this land area can augment the family income by P11,000 per month, conservatively. The production of strawberries can last more than seven months with the set-up.
Solomon Lang-ay, 42, farmer and brother of Sammy, breeds the strawberry runners. He said that he has different types of strawberries which he bred from the original San Andreas strawberries that his brother Sammy introduced almost eight years ago.
He has King Berry and Cyberry. The different kinds range from round and soft to large and firm. Different people order different kinds depending on their use. He said that he developed his farm last year as a strawberry picking site. He realized that agri-tourism visitors should be allowed only in one area so the ripened fruits can be completely picked.
Only the large ones were picked at the end of the day. Solomon has a tilapia fish pond cum water tank. The tilapia production is double purpose for the safety of the water quality. When the fish die, water coming from the upper areas of Sto. Tomas Proper are polluted. He has lost close to P400,000 because of the ECQ. Unlike Sammy, Solomon hires laborers from Samar to help in the upkeep of the farm and is thankful that work can go on while the quarantine is still active.
Not all strawberries are lost in May. Sammy said that the orders coming in for the strawberry seedlings is making up for the absence of the fruits. Farmers in Mountain Trail in Benguet are asking for planting materials and may soon start strawberry production. He hopes that the farmers maintain the organic nature of their fruits by reducing chemical inputs for production.
There are strawberries still growing as large as tennis balls in this area. In this quarantine, the blooming and fruiting of strawberries is on hold until there is reason to travel and strawberries will be in demand again for cakes, salads, and drinks.