By Henrylito D. Tacio
When you go to Magsaysay, Davao del Sur, there’s a farm that is becoming popular as a tourist destination. It is the Silvano Farm, located in Purok 27 of Barangay Poblacion, a few kilometers away from the town proper.
The whole farm measures about two hectares. One-half hectare is allotted to growing natural rice while about 320 square meters are planted to grapes. The rest of the farm is planted to various crops and is also where some livestock, poultry, and fish are also raised.
Just like the rest of the country, Magsaysay was not spared from the pandemic in 2020. Fruits were expensive as they reportedly could boost one’s immune system. People were also not allowed to go out and mingle with others.
Randy Silvano, 31, decided to plant grapes. He got his planting materials from friends who live in Calinan, Davao City. “He encouraged me to plant grapes and he grows the vine in his place,” he said.
Randy is an information technology graduate, but he has also undergone training on animal production and agricultural crop production through the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA)
He started with two varieties: Brazilian hybrid and Catawba. Today, he has added six more varieties: Baikonur, Malaga, Red Cardinal, Everest, Julian and Academic. “All these are table grapes,” he said. “They are sweet.”
Randy learned some growing tips from the friend who gave him planting materials. But since his buddy lives far from his place, he wasn’t always available when Randy encountered problems. Randy decided to learn the basics from watching videos and reading books and pamphlets posted on the internet.
Surprisingly, grapes grew without much problems except for a fungus that attacked the fruit. He also observed some cracking fruits. Even today, these two problems remain and he is still figuring out how to solve them.
“Our neighbors and those who come to visit our farm were really surprised to see grapes bearing fruits,” Randy said. “They thought grapes grow only in temperate countries and not in tropical countries like the Philippines.”
People who come to visit the farm posted their photos on social media. Those who saw those photos became interested and wanted to visit the farm too, so much so that Randy was shocked that people from nearby provinces started to flock to the farm.
Because of this, he is thinking of opening the farm for tourism purposes. “In the next fruit season, we will do the fruit picking and pay scheme,” he said. “The entrance fee would be P25 per person.”
Right now, people who visit the farm can pick a few fruits to taste. “The grape fruits are for family consumption only,” he said, adding that interested visitors could buy planting materials. The rooted plants, aged one month or more, are sold from P100 to P2,500 each, depending on the variety.
The success of his grape farm led him to expand the area. Randy is thinking of planting more grapes in another part of the farm, particularly near the place where the goats are being raised. “It’s about 1,000 square meters and the varieties I will be planting are Baikonur, Everest, Academic, and Julian,” he said.
The said place, however, is planted to mangoes. He would cut the trees as they are no longer bearing fruits. Besides, it is near the goat house and it’s not advisable to spray mangoes with chemicals as it would affect the goat herd.
Dairy and meat-type goats
Speaking of goats, they have two types: meat and dairy. “The meat type is for family consumption only although we sometimes sell meat type goats to others,” he explained. “We process our goat milk and sell it to neighbors, schools, and visitors.”
Some years back, the local government unit of Magsaysay had a goat dispersal program and Silvano Farm was one of the recipients. The breeding stock, an Anglo-Nubian, came from the Mindanao Baptist Rural Life Center in barangay Kinuskusan in Bansalan, Davao del Sur. These were crossbred with local goats in the area. As the offspring didn’t produce much milk, they decided that they become a source of meat.
Saanen is the breed of goat they raise for milk production. Their initial stock was from the National Dairy Authority. Right now, six does are producing milk. They get nine liters of milk per day.
They don’t throw away the goat manure. “We collect goat manure and utilize them as fertilizer for our crops,” Randy said. “We also use goat manure in vermiculture to produce vermicast.”
They started with only five kilograms of African nightcrawler earthworms. They raised the earthworms in boxes. One box can produce as much as 15 sacks of vermicast; one sack is about 50 kilograms.
“We mix goat manure, rice straw and banana trunk as feed for the earthworms,” Randy said, adding that leftover vegetable scraps, and fruit and vegetable peelings are sometimes given, too.
They also use vermi tea (a natural liquid fertilizer made from soaking earthworm castings in water) and goat manure in fertilizing their naturally grown rice. Spraying synthetic chemicals is a no-no. Instead, they use fertilizers recommended in natural farming like fermented plant juices and oriental herbal nutrients.
Unlike the traditional method of getting rid of rice straw, they don’t burn the by-product of rice production at harvest. Instead, the rice straw is utilized in the production of organic fertilizer which is then used to fertilize the rice crop later on.
They got their initial seeds of organic rice – 25 kilograms – from Don Bosco Foundation for Sustainable Development, Inc based in Makilala, North Cotabato. “We now produce our own seeds,” he said.
They harvest about 40 cavans or about 2,000 kilograms per cropping from the half-hectare farm. They bring the palay to Magsaysay Organic Farmer Marketing Cooperative which mills the palay. “We don’t buy rice anymore as the rice we produce are for family consumption,” he said, adding that they sell the rice through the cooperative.
When asked why rice is grown naturally, Randy replied: “For healthy living.”
Dragon fruits, ducks, chicken, pigs and fishpond
Aside from grapes, Randy also grows dragon fruits. If you roam the farm, you get to see chickens, ducks (which are also used in harvesting snails in rice fields), swine, and a fishpond.
“We use azolla, duckweed and a combination of rice bran/corn bran in feeding our tilapia,” he said. They got their initial stock of azolla from the Banaybanay, a rice granary in Davao Oriental. The duckweeds are available anytime as they grow near the irrigation canals.
In the past, they used to raise swine. In fact, they have a building with three pens. “We raised 14 pigs before,” Randy said. They fed their pigs with starter to grow commercial feeds. Once they were ready for market, some buyers came to the farm and bought the livestock.
However, when the town was hit by the African swine fever, they stopped raising pigs. They will again raise pigs once the local government will allow them again to do so. “We will wait for the go signal from our agricultural officials,” he said.
The Silvano Farm is owned by his parents, Diosdado, 64, and Lorna, 57. They have three children. The only girl, Sheila Mae, is now living in Davao City. “The farm is still common since the land is still under the name of our father,” Randy said.
Randy and his older brother, Renante, manage the farm. Randy, who spends eight hours on the farm, is doing all the chores when it comes to crops, chickens, ducks, fishpond, rice, and swine.
Renante, who has a background in agribusiness and is four years older than him, monitors the goats from daily hand milking to pasteurization and from feeding to the health status of the animals. Since Renante is working and cannot do the tasks, he hires a worker to do them on his behalf.
The Silvano Farm has been accredited by the Agricultural Training Institute as a Learning Site for Agriculture. A farm is chosen if it practices applicable agricultural technologies, employs doable farming strategies, and operates successfully.
“We have already trained some people here,” he said. “They do all the farm chores we are doing at the farm.”
Randy believed that to make farming profitable and sustainable, diversification is the key. In agriculture, diversification occurs when more species, plant varieties or animal breeds are added to a given farm. This may also include landscape diversification – different crops and cropping systems interspersed in space and time.
“From goats, we get income from milk and from the kids, which we sell once they are three months old. In organic rice farming, we don’t spend too much as goat manure and other forms of fertilizers are available in the farm. After four months, we get income from the rice.
“We don’t need to buy viands as we can get eggs and meat from our chickens and ducks. We can have fish anytime we want since we have a fishpond. We don’t have problems with fruits as we have grapes and dragon fruits. We can also sell planting materials from our grapes and dragon fruits,” he added.
Photos by Henrilito Tacio