Why Benguet farmers cannot supply fries to fast food chains
While Benguet, which is considered the “Salad Bowl” of the Philippines, supplies 80 percent of the temperate vegetable needs of the country including potatoes, it still cannot produce the variety needed for fast food-type of fries.
Department of Agriculture-Cordillera Executive Director Cameron Odsey said most of the fries served in fast food chains and restaurants are imported since the type of potato varieties required by these companies are not grown in the highland farms.
Odsey said due to the food crisis caused by the Russia-led war on Ukraine, it affected the supply and logistics of these varieties called chipping potatoes.
Fast food restaurants in the country recently released advisories that larger servings of fries are not available for delivery due to “the global freight crisis”.
“The frozen fries are imported. What we have is the table potato,” Odsey said.
The possibility of propagating these chipping or processing potatoes was previously explored by the Benguet provincial government.
In 2014, the Office of the Provincial Agriculturist successfully propagated chipping potato varieties identified as Conestoga, Cherokee, and CalWhite.
The endeavor took six years in the making with these varieties acquired by the province from New Brunswick, Canada in 2008.
The varieties responded well with the soils of the test-municipalities and planted in various trial sites in Madaymen, Kibungan; Bonglo, Atok; and on station at the Buguias Seed Farm, where the preliminary trials were conducted.
Provincial Agriculturist Lolita Bentres said it took five months for the potatoes to grow. The potatoes were then evaluated in color, size, and taste and were found to be good for the chipping kind.
In appearance, a chipping potato is rounder than a typical potato, light-colored, and its skin easily rubs off. The sugar levels of these potatoes allow them to fry up with a nice, white to very light, slightly gold color.
In an attempt to market the potato varieties, the provincial government submitted samples to Liwayway Corp., the makers of Oishi in 2014.
In the first samples given, the provincial government was told to lessen the moisture content of the varieties as low moisture content is needed for potatoes used in the production of chips.
After a year, the provincial government then sent 20 kilos of the varieties for its second attempt.
“From then on, they had other reasons. So, it didn’t materialize,” Bentres said.
Farmers have kept the planting materials at the provincial farm, but Bentres said farmers would not want to produce the chipping varieties due to lack of buyers.
“Almost all processing types have thin skin. So, there’s more likely post-harvest damage than the table type varieties,” she said.
Augusta Balanoy of the Hi-Land Farmers Multipurpose Cooperative echoed the sentiment of farmers.
“The table potato takes three months to grow while the processing type takes five months. So, the farmers have to invest more with the longer tilling period and then the market is not assured,” Balanoy said.
Balanoy said her group is continuing the propagation of the table type variety, which was also from Canada, courtesy of the Universal Robina Corporation in partnership with the DA in 2019.
The group was one of the recipients of the program, also in partnership with the Bureau of Plant Industry, to help farmers yield better potato qualities.
The group reported a 95 percent success rate for most of their farmers that tried to plant the G3 potato seedling variety in Buguias. The farmers produced rounded, fair-skinned and smooth surface and firm skin of potatoes, which allows for longer shelf life.
For now, Benguet farmers are left producing table varieties which go to wet markets in Manila, Batangas, and Cebu ports. – Ofelia C. Empian