In 2013, the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the Department of Education (DepEd) in Cagayan Valley (Region 2) staged the successful, high-impact two-day Pistahang Agrikultura sa Paaralan at the Gamu Rural School in Barangay Linglingay, Gamu, Isabela for the two departments’ Gulayan sa Paaralan Program.

By Tony A. Rodriguez

The first of its kind and scale to be held by a region of the country, the event drew about 5,000 attendees. This year the two agencies replicated the festival, this time for three days at the Isabela Experiment Station (IES) in Gamu’s Barangay Upi along Cagayan Valley Road.

Isabela Second District congressperson Cristina
Go (left) and Dept. of Agriculture High-Value Crops Development Program National coordinator Jennifer Remoquillo display Nunhems Rio Bravo F1 bulbs harvested in the onion derby of the festival.

The DA’s High-Value Crops Development Program (HVCDP) national coordinator Jennifer Remoquillo and Isabela’s Congressional Second District Representative Ana Cristina Go formally opened the festival.

Formerly the Livestock Experiment Station, IES is one of the five stations that comprise the Cagayan Valley Integrated Agricultural Research Center (CVIARC) based in Brgy. San Felipe, Ilagan City, Isabela, the DA’s research outreach station (ROS) for the province created by DA Administrative Order No. 19, which provided for the rationalization of the department’s research stations throughout the country.

A dynamic and empowered center providing excellent and relevant research and development in agriculture for the sustainable development of small lowland and upland farms for them to attain self-reliance, CVIARC is more than just the ROS for Isabela. It’s also the leading developer and promoter of viable technologies for making farms more productive throughout the region, and is actively involved in training specialists, trainors, farmer-led extensionists, and farmers who are members of cooperatives or associations.

The center focuses on improved technologies on hybrid rice and other upland crops, legumes, forage and livestock production, disseminating environmentally-safe pest- and disease-control technologies on different priority crops, and promoting organic fertilizer utilization, mechanized corn production and the use of farm implements, and nursery management and plant propagation techniques.

The Regional Integrated Research Center (RIARC) and Region 2’s HVCDP, through the CVIARC, utilized six hectares of the IES as a techno-demo field for rice, vegetable, livestock, and forage crops, and a separate three-hectare area for fruit trees to showcase the development of cost-effective farming and production systems during the festival.

Allied Botanical Corp. agronomists (from left) Rod Somera and Lorrence Rivera, and Cagayan
Valley Area Sales manager Michael Serafica display Nunhems Rio Bravo F1 onion bulbs at the
festival.

Vegetable varieties grown from seeds marketed by three leading seed companies—Allied Botanical Corporation (ABC), East-West Seed Philippines, and Ramgo Seeds—were the crops in the techno-demo field. The tour of the demonstration field began each day of the festival, with the first day set aside for DA technicians and researchers, and farmers and agrientrepreneurs from the region’s provinces of Cagayan, Isabela, Nueva Vizcaya, and Quirino. Public school teachers had the second day to themselves, while the last day was for farmers who were too busy in their fields and could not be present during the first day.

“We again set up our region’s most extensive crop technodemo,” says Robert B. Olinares, a 38-year DA veteran who is the current RIARC officer-in-charge and HVCDP regional coordinator. “Gulayan sa Paaralan is one of the major thrusts of Cagayan Valley’s RIARC and HVCDP. We planted our region’s priority crops, such as pinakbet and sinigang vegetables, root crops like sweet potato and yam, industrial crops like corn and cassava, forage crops like different varieties of napier grass, and garlic and onion specifically for Nueva Vizcaya Province.

Nueva Vizcaya, the gateway to Northern Luzon’s Cagayan Valley Region, has become one of the five established and recognized onion growing areas of the country after Nueva Ecija, Pangasinan, Ilocos Sur and Ilocos Norte, and Occidental Mindoro. Nueva Ecija and Pangasinan, where the onion farmers have decades-long experience in growing the crop and were the first to plant hybrid varieties, are the nation’s leading producers. In the Ilocos provinces, farmers produce shallots, the small red onions locally known as Sibuyas Tagalog.

Teachers tour the techno-demos of three leading vegetable seed companies on the second day of the festival.

Nueva Vizcaya onion farmers had been relatively slow to adopt the crop’s hybrid technology. In Aritao, the second town northward after passing the provincial boundary with Nueva Ecija at Dalton Pass and the province’s leading onion-growing municipality, most farmers plant open-pollinated varieties. Onion is Aritao’s product in the Department of Trade and Industry’s One Town, One Product (OTOP) Program.

Aiming to make Nueva Vizcaya overtake Occidental Mindoro as a major onion producer, the DA’s Regional Field Office is working to increase onion output in the province through hectarage expansion and the increased use of hybrid varieties, especially those of yellow onions, which most of the farmers have not tried planting. With its less than 1,000 hectares of onion crops, the province’s largest at present, and with the highest potential for expansion, Aritao is the DA drive’s main focal area.

To highlight the crop’s importance among the region’s farmers, the Gamu festival featured an onion derby among the seed companies. ABC’s Rio Bravo F1, the only yellow Granex-type onion in the derby, bore the biggest bulbs and emerged as the favorite of the DA officials, agri-entrepreneurs, and farmers.

An Allied Botanical Corp. agronomist shows fruiting Condor Pinatubo hot pepper plants to public school teachers at the firm’s techno-demo section at the festival.

Rio Bravo F1 matures one week earlier than other Granex cultivars. Its large, uniformly-sized, straw-colored, sweet bulbs have a refined neck or stem and a small root plate. It’s the dominant yellow onion variety planted by farmers, especially in Nueva Ecija, where many growers attain yields of 25 metric tons per hectare with it. The cultivar comes from the nearly 100-year-old Dutch firm Nunhems, one of the four leading seed companies in the world, which markets more than 2,500 seed varieties of 28 vegetable crops and is present in over 40 countries worldwide. ABC began marketing a hybrid variety from the Dutch firm in the last quarter of 1994.

The ABC agronomists also planted a red onion variety—Red Express F1—from Golden State of the U.S.A, a cultivar whose plants are more vigorous, more pest and disease-resistant, and produce more high-quality bulbs than other red onion varieties. At the techno-demo. the ABC agronomists sowed seeds of Rio Bravo and Red Express at a five-centimeter (cm) by 5 cm distance. Seven days after seedlings emerged. they drenched the seedling beds with three scoops of Peters Hi-Nitro (30-10-10) formulation mixed in 16 liters (L) of water, repeating this every 10 days thereafter.

They transplanted the seedlings 30 days after sowing, planting the young plants 5 cm apart between holes and 5 cm between rows on prepared plots. Two weeks after transplanting, they again drenched the plants with Peters Hi-Nitro but this time at the rate of five scoops per 16 L of water every 10 days. To protect their crop from disease, they also sprayed the young plants with two scoops of Nordox 75WP copper fungicide in 16 L of water once every two weeks for the prevention of Anthracnose and Purple Blotch, major diseases of onion.

Bulbs began to develop after the plants had formed seven to nine leaves. To enhance the growth of big, vigorous bulbs, the ABC men drenched their plants with five scoops of Peters Blossom Booster (9-45-15) in 16 L of water, repeating this at 10-day intervals. When the plants had formed 13 to 18 leaves, they used five scoops of Peters Yield Booster (15-10-30) in 16L of water. The saw to it that the plants were always well-watered during their bulbdevelopment stage. But at 10 days before harvest on the festival’s opening day, they stopped watering so the bulbs would not begin to rot. At this stage, there’s the danger of losing the crop if there’s heavy rain. That’s also the reason harvesting can’t be delayed when the bulbs are fully developed.

Allied Botanical Corp. president Michael Caballes shows a bunch of Nunhems Rio Bravo F1
onions to Dept. of Agriculture Region 2 researchers at the Region 2 DA-DepEd Festival at the
Isabela Experiment Station in Gamu, Isabela.

When the onion plants matured and their tops collapsed naturally, the agronomists pulled them out from the ground and sorted these according to bulb size without cutting off the leaves to allow the necks to cure. Except in the case of bulbs destined for cold storage, cutting at the necks immediately after pulling out the plants will enable harmful organisms to enter the bulb through the fresh stem, causing the bulbs to deteriorate and considerably shorten their shelf life.

Rio Bravo has become the dominant white onion variety that farmers plant because of its highly favorable characteristics and its big, uniformly sized quality bulbs, although it has a much shorter shelf life than red bulbs like those of Red Express.

The bulbs of both varieties that the ABC personnel harvested on the festival’s opening day impressed the DA technicians and researchers, Remoquillo, Congressperson Go and the agri-entrepreneurs. The DA officials led by Olinares were confident that that aspect of the techno-demo would considerably encourage and boost onion growing in the region, especially in Nueva Vizcaya.

This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s May 2015 issue.