By Janine L. Cailo

“It’s just the two of us in this house,” says Herminigilda Escano. “Our three children have already finished their studies and have families of their own.”

Over 36 years of marriage, she and her spouse Javier Escano, both employees of the local government of Sta. Maria, Laguna, supported the education of their children through rice farming. “Farming helped us tremendously,” the couple says.

Love for farming

Imee Escano recalls, “It became a habit to help my father [on] our farm when I was younger. I helped in tending the rice paddies and clearing them [of] water lilies.” Meanwhile, Javier Escano learned how to farm from his parents; theirs was a family of farmers. When the pair got married, it was no surprise that they ventured into rice farming as a source of income.

At present, they lease a 1.2 hectare (ha) rice area in Brgy. Masipac, a 20-minute motorcycle rice from their home in Brgy. Bagong Pook. Both are in Sta. Maria, Laguna. Even with their 8 AM – 5 PM office schedule, they make sure to have ample time to visit their farm early in the morning before they go to work and during weekends. “There are three coconut trees planted in our rice field and they somewhat serve as a landmark,” Imee shares.

A New Technology

“We were not following or using any planting techniques back then. We would…roughly estimate the amount of fertilizer to use on the crops and just [plant] any rice variety we got our hands on. As expected, our yield was very low,” she says.

In 2014, however, their practice changed when agricultural extension workers from the municipal agriculture office (MAO) of Sta. Maria introduced the Rice Crop Manager (RCM) to them.

From a total of 12,800 ha of farmland in Sta. Maria, Laguna, 1,316.6 ha is devoted to rice production. RCM is one of the services provided by the MAO that aims to increase the income of farmers by calculating the amount of fertilizer required and recommending the appropriate crop management practices.

Using a personal computer, laptop, smart phone, or tablet, Elenita Balela, an agricultural technologist from the local government unit (LGU), provides a one-page RCM recommendation for rainfed and irrigated rice farmers every season with the help of Nilo Ortalla, a local farmer technician who underwent a training course on the use and operation of RCM conducted by the Agricultural Training Institute (ATI) of Region IV-A.

Laguna has a total of 250 rice farmers registered as RCM users. They regularly receive short message services (SMS—better known as text messages) or calls to monitor the progress of their rice farming activities.

According to Imee, “I was dubious at first because it [didn’t make] sense to me that you would [get a better yield] by using less fertilizer.” But she talked her husband into trying RCM.

As a traditional farmer himself, Javier was also skeptical about the technology; he based his practices on his parents’ way of applying fertilizer twice until they harvested. But he let his wife manage the farm and decide what variety of rice to plant and the fertilizer to use, including the amount and the frequency of application. “I let her decide on everything with the help of the RCM. Whatever she [said], I would just agree.”

His wife turned out to be right all along. “I was startled when we followed the recommendation on the amount of fertilizer to be used on our crops. Per RCM recommendation, we were advised to apply fertilizer thrice until harvest. I told her that was a lot of fertilizer. She said, ‘No, we’ll just use two sacks for the first application’,” he says.

“The Department of Agriculture (DA) provided [a] specific amount of fertilizer to be used per application. When I compared the amount we used with the traditional way we were doing it, I was amazed. [Under DCM, the amount we were using] was far less than what we were used to…We were curious if using less fertilizer would result in [better yields] and we were shocked by the result.”

Javier continues, “I didn’t tell her that I [had doubts about] RCM. I thought that it could just be the timing of the season that caused the increase in harvest so we tried it again [and] continuously followed the RCM recommendations.” After another planting season using RCM, he admitted, “My wife does know best.”

Good Harvest

Imee makes sure that they follow the recommendations from the RCM, “…especially the ones that indicate the amount of fertilizer we should use. Furthermore, we also receive text messages from the DA. It’s like a reminder in case we forget.”

Javier, on the other hand, admires his wife for being resourceful and aggressive. “I was surprised that my wife [knew] when to plant the rice seedlings, when to put the fertilizer on the crops, the number of sacks of fertilizers required, even the kind of fertilizer to be used. It turns out that she has been using the RCM guides all along,” he chuckles.

Since 2014, the couple has seen a significant increase in the harvest from their 1.2 ha rice field. In their last dry season for 2017, their net harvest was 152 cavans. Now, Javier believes in RCM. “It has been proven effective with our recent harvest, showing increase in yield and in terms of cost effectivity.”

Good Example

Aside from the high value seeds that they receive from the MAO, RCM is just one of the services that they availed themselves of from the office. She continues to consult with the MAO regarding the variety of rice and fertilizer to use as well as proper management practices during land preparation up to harvesting.

From skeptics, the Escanos are now proud RCM beneficiaries. When asked if they would still want to go back to their old ways, Javier answers quickly, “No. Why [would] we when we are already getting high [yields] and saving more than before?” The couple isn’t looking back; instead, they are looking forward to another good harvest.

This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s March 2018 issue.