Police-farmer Romy Aligante has had bountiful ampalaya harvests for three years. Not only is he a policeman and a farmer, but he is also an educator. On his Youtube channel, Police Farmer, he has some tips and tutorials on how to best manage a farm, such as why plastic mulch is important for the farm.
All for the crops
Aligante’s ampalaya farm is 3200 square meters big with around 1250 planted ampalaya trees. For a space this big, he used around three rolls of 1.2 meters by 400 meters of plastic mulch.
Plastic mulch is pricey but important, possibly even the most important input in a farm. With plastic mulch, Aligante says one can save on time, labor and money.
In his ampalaya plantation, plastic mulch allows the ampalaya plants to be separated from grass and weeds inevitably growing on farm soil.
Without plastic mulch, the ampalaya plants will sink into the grass. “When the ampalaya is sunk into the grass, there will be a lot of negative effects on our crops,” Aligante said in Tagalog. Grass and weeds are enemies of crops, because they steal nourishment and house insects that may destroy the crops. “Our crops will have to compete for the nutrition we give, especially from fertilizer.”
Farmers who don’t use plastic mulch typically pay for others to eliminate the weeds from the farm. However, Aligante said that in an especially spacious land, that would just be more expensive.
For a plot as big as his, he said, ”Four days wouldn’t be enough to cut all the grass, unless I hire a lot of people. If I wanted [all the grass to be cleared] in one day, I would have to hire more than six people.” Paying for labor plus providing their meals can build up to a large expense, especially considering that grass would grow again in a few weeks. “I used mulching for my ampalaya so now I don’t have to think about the cost of labor for clearing out the grass.”
Another method non-plastic mulch users do to combat weeds is to spray herbicide. “We know that herbicide is dangerous to our crops,” said Aligante. Without plastic mulch, grass would grow close to the crops. When sprayed with herbicide, it is inevitable that the crops would be sprayed on, too.
“You can see just how important plastic mulch is, fellow farmers.” Aligante said as he pointed out how the ampalaya plants are set apart from the grass. “Although there is grass around, they won’t affect the ampalaya because they won’t be able to steal nutrients,” he explained. Herbicide can also be safely sprayed on the surrounding grass without harming the crop itself.
No need for second thoughts
Aligante knows that his fellow farmers would probably think twice before using plastic mulch. He knows farmers hold back because of two things: price and availability.
“Us farmers, when we plant, especially when on a budget, we think on how to save on farming,” he said. “We would think, “Let’s just plant [on the soil directly], let’s not use plastic mulch because it is expensive. Let’s just have the land be weeded and pay for the labor.”
He said availability in the area is another obstacle, as many farmlands are in rural areas and far from suppliers.
Aligante teaches from experience. He went through the same mistakes before finally seeing the benefits of using plastic mulch for his crops. “I planted ampalaya directly, without plastic mulch,” he said. “What happened is, at first the ampalaya’s growth was great, but at the end it was attacked by insects and had ‘maleness tendency’ (namamarako) because they lacked land preparation, care, and there was too much grass.” Aligante had to take the loss.
“Lesson learned,” he said. He now uses plastic mulch for all his crops, not just ampalaya. He considers plastic mulch as a worthy investment. Suppliers are far from his area in Lambunao, so he sources the plastic mulch from online stores and has it delivered to his doorstep.
“Friendly advice and for everyone’s knowledge,” Aligante said. “If you have the capital, if you have the resources, fellow farmers, try and use plastic mulch. You can save on cost, on labor and on time. And, of course, you would see the beauty of your farm if you used plastic mulch.”
Photos courtesy of Police Staff Sergeant Romy Aligante