By Tony A. Rodriguez

Many vegetable growers in Luzon now save on time and costs in obtaining seedlings to plant in their farms. Instead of spending for seedling trays, growing media, labor, and constructing seedling nurseries, they can focus on preparing their transplanting plots and basally fertilizing these with organic fertilizer, then just buy ready-to-plant seedlings of the veggies they want to produce.

That shortcut that they take has its advantages. Preparing the proper growing media for seedlings alone is costly, time-consuming, and fraught with risk, unless the grower sterilizes his or her medium.

Seedling preparation is critical, especially for high-value crops—the hybrid seeds of which are not cheap. If the quality of the growing media used is not assured, or not free of harmful pathogens, the seedlings produced will not have a good start in the transplanting plots, and will be more prone to pest and disease infestations; as a result, crop yield will surely suffer.

On the other hand, with a reliable supplier of quality ready-to-plant seedlings, farmers can have a fast, cost-saving, and problem-free start in growing their vegetable crops.

The idea of supplying farm-ready seedlings on a commercial scale probably took root in Bulacan province, where several agrientrepreneurs who were first to engage in the said business are based. Most of them prepare seedlings according to the preferences and needs of their customers, and deliver these to them, depending on the number of seedlings ordered and the distance from the suppliers’ farms.

“In our case, we have delivered seedlings to customers in Batangas and Pangasinan,” says Alex Reyes, operations manager of Golden Farm Agri-Business Inc. in Barangay Sumapang Matanda in Malolos City, which has been in operation for only 10 months. The farm, which has a total area of three hectares, is on land owned by Malolos native Danilo Trajano, a successful civil engineer and businessman who decided to use it for agribusiness to contribute to the country’s food production efforts.

He chose to establish a firm for producing ready-to-plant vegetable seedlings specified and ordered by customers.

Golden Farm staff (from left): Operations manager Alex Reyes, agriculturists Carol Calaquian and Jay Reyes, and administrative staff member in charge Mayette Leoncio inspect part of sili seedling batch being readied for delivery to a customer.

“We accept orders for any of all varieties carried by the leading vegetable seed companies, usually procuring the seeds ourselves,” says Reyes, a horticulturist who obtained his Agriculture degree from the University of the Philippines at Los Baños. “We deliver orders of a minimum 30 seedling trays for free within 10 kilometers of Malolos but we serve bulk orders of customers whose farms are farther away, such as in Pampanga, Tarlac, Pangasinan, and Batangas.” Golden Farms requires a 50 percent down payment for orders, with the balance payable on cash-on-delivery terms.

Being new in the business, Golden Farm’s immediate focus is on growing its regular client base, striving to achieve this by producing high-quality seedlings that can help ensure its customers’ cropping success. It hopes that positive word of mouth about its successes will generate more orders for its seedlings. Quality control is thus an important aspect of its operations. Handling this is a young graduate of the Pampanga Agricultural College (PAC), Carol Calaquian, who sees to it that the seedlings delivered to customers have passed a thorough evaluation and are pest- and disease-free.

The marketing aspect, which is handled by another young PAC graduate, Jay Reyes (no relation to Alex), is also essential in attracting more customers through visits to local government units, starting with the Bulacan provincial government at its capitol in Malolos, who are implementing vegetable production programs in their barangays. Potential institutional customers like farmers’ associations and cooperatives are also welcome, as are walk-in customers. Meanwhile, Golden Farm’s management is setting up its initial dealerships in Bulacan and Pampanga.

“In the main vegetable planting season, even without orders from customers, we also produce seedlings of the most in-demand veggies like eggplant, tomato, and sili in anticipation of growers’ requirements,” says Alex Reyes. “We stock up on the young plants in our five existing rain shelter-type greenhouses that have an aggregate floor area of 1,200 square meters. We will build a few more of those structures because we hope to be able to eventually attain a maximum output of 10,000 trays per production cycle.”

A farm worker at Golden Farm’s growout and demonstration site in Norzagaray, Bulacan shows fruiting papaya grown from seedlings produced at Malolos City.

Watering the seedlings in the shelters is through manual misting by the farm’s regular workers. Two deep well pumps supply the water. According to Reyes, the Farm didn’t experience water problems even in the driest months of the year. “We even have access to water from the National Irrigation Administration system serving Malolos’ ricefields but we will not use it for our seedlings.” That’s because the irrigation canals pass through communities that cannot prevent people from throwing garbage in those waterways. “That would completely negate our quality orientation and everything we’re doing to produce an input that will greatly benefit our customers.”

The farm produces its own growing medium by improving the formula for organic fertilizer that a sister company of Golden Farm, the fledgling Green Valley Trading Corporation, produces. In charge of the firm is Nemesio Trillana, a Ph.D. in Crop Science graduate of Kyoto University in Japan. “Like all ideal growing media for seedlings, the medium that we use is soilless,” says Reyes. “It’s mainly made up of coco coir and carbonized rice hull. It promotes good root development in the seedlings, which is essential for their excellent start and vigorous growth after they are transplanted.”

Being a young business organization, Golden Farms is still manned by a lean team; in addition to its two agriculturists, they have an accountant, a person in charge of administrative matters, four regular farm workers, and three delivery vehicle drivers. Reyes says, “When we need to fill big orders for seedlings, five people who live nearby are available on call to help us. We trained them in the work they need to do.”

Customers wait 18 to 30 days for their orders to be filled, depending on the varieties that they want to plant in their farms. Tomato seedlings take 18 to 20 days, while others can take up to 25 to 30 days. The varieties that are the most needed are eggplant, hot and pansigang sili, ampalaya, and tomato; secondary choices are squash, upo, patola, and papaya.

Golden Farms uses eight hectares of hilly land in Norzagaray, also in Bulacan (owned by Engr. Trajano’s in-laws), as a grow-out and demonstration site for some of the seedlings it produces. With its abundant water supply and concrete reservoirs in the farm’s highest points, the area is an ideal one for vegetable production. As it also has excellent drainage, the first crops that have been planted there are three varieties of papaya and a variety each of pansigang and hot sili.

“Seeing the now-fruiting papaya and sili plants at the site assures us that we’re on the right track as far as producing high-quality seedlings are concerned,” says Reyes. “Growers whom we have invited to visit the place also say the plants show the very good start that the seedlings had before we transplanted them.

This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s December 2014 issue.