By JAMES TABABA
Efficient mango farming is essential for maximizing yields and ensuring sustainable agricultural practices. Enrico Batungbacal, owner of Batungbacal farm and one of the mango producers in Zambales, has made substantial investments in revolutionizing traditional mango farming methods. Through innovative approaches and cutting-edge technologies, Enrico has transformed his orchard through irrigation systems, chemical product application, and tree pruning techniques. These investments hold the promise of increased productivity, reduced labor requirements, and improved sustainability within the mango farming industry.
Revolutionizing irrigation systems
Enrico invested a significant amount of resources to acquire the knowledge of proper mango farming techniques, aiming to optimize their production systems. In 2018, substantial investments were made, the first being a transition to a new irrigation system. They opted for a pressurized drip irrigation system with fertigation, which not only provided irrigation for the mango trees but also allowed for fertilization through the same system. This shift represented a considerable improvement compared to the previous manual method, which involved drilling holes beneath the tree canopy, placing the fertilizer, and covering it up.
With the new system, they had a single mixing tank where the fertilizer was diluted, and a venturi system that facilitated the delivery of the fertilizer through the irrigation system. The liquid form of the fertilizer offered advantages by enhancing nutrient uptake in the trees. Additionally, instead of applying fertilizer all at once, it could now be administered gradually every two weeks, tailored to the tree’s requirements. This newfound flexibility allowed for fertilizer application even during the flowering and fruiting stages, precisely when the trees needed it most.
Streamlining chemical product application
Enricos’ second improvement centered around the application of chemical products. In the Philippines, the prevalent approach involved using a power sprayer, hose, and spray gun. However, due to their orchard-type system, they were able to procure an orchard sprayer from Italy. This sprayer, which was attached to a tractor, traversed the rows of trees, efficiently distributing the required products. The use of this sprayer provided both safety and efficiency advantages. Operators remained secure inside the tractor, while the trailer carrying the orchard sprayer was situated far from the operator at the rear. The efficiency gains were significant, reducing the number of people required for the spraying program from 24 to just one person for every 6,000 mango trees.
Spraying was typically conducted in the early morning around 5 a.m. or during the late afternoon when the sun was rising or setting, respectively. These time periods were selected as the stomata of the leaves remained open, and wind conditions were minimal. Occasionally, spraying was performed in the afternoon to effectively target specific insects that emerged at dusk. The entire process was swift, taking only two hours. For instance, if they initiated spraying at 5 PM, they would typically conclude by 7.
Advancing tree pruning techniques
Another equipment that had been acquired was an orchard pruner, designed specifically for tree pruning. By maintaining their trees at a smaller size, they found it much easier to manage them compared to maintaining century-old, towering trees. The smaller tree sizes facilitated improved sunlight and chemical penetration, with nutrients having a shorter travel distance for uptake. Harvesting became a simpler task, and overall tree management was more convenient.
Interestingly, in other countries, Enrico shared that orchard trees were progressively becoming smaller. Globally, orchards were shifting towards high-density planting, where trees were positioned closely to one another but were intentionally kept small, typically between 2 to 3 meters in height. Apart from the enhanced production system, this approach resulted in a doubled yield. While the global average for mango yield per hectare stood at around 12 tons, in the Philippines, it was a mere 4 tons per hectare, and in Zambales, an even lower 2 tons per hectare. However, with high-density farming, farms were able to achieve remarkable yields of 30-50 tons per hectare, although with an approximate density of 600 trees per hectare. Considering their farm had 6,000 trees spanning 120 hectares, implementing high-density farming on just 10 hectares could effectively double their yield.
Motivated by these prospects, he planned to start with one hectare, learning and assessing the compatibility of this system with Carabao mangoes. The high-density farming technique demonstrated great potential not only for mangoes but also for other orchard fruits such as avocados, oranges, and more. The question that often crossed his mind was why this technology was not more widely practiced or explored, given its existence for several years.
Challenges in manpower acquisition and the shift to mechanization
The acquisition of manpower has become increasingly challenging as the standard of living in the province has improved. “The younger generation has shown less interest in pursuing careers in farming,” Enrico said.
In light of these circumstances, the decision to transition to mechanized operations has proven to be timely. Operating the machinery and irrigation systems requires specific skills, and as a result, Enrico now offers higher compensation to attract and retain qualified personnel. This issue of labor scarcity is not unique to the mango industry but is prevalent across the entire agricultural sector. The ongoing urbanization of towns has led to an abundance of alternative job opportunities outside the realm of farming.
Enrico expressed his firm determination to embrace these changes because “We need our farm to catch up with technology to keep efficiency,” he said. The farm was actively preparing to adopt these innovative techniques, setting the stage for a future of improved productivity and sustainability.
In the next article, Enrico will share his insights for building a successful farming business.
Photo courtesy of Batungbacal Farm