CEBU CITY—Less than half of Filipino farmers use the right amount of fertilizers. And because many Philippine crops are under-fertilized, this affects crop yields.

By P. J. Restituto

The rice yield, for example, is very small—smaller than that of other countries in Southeast Asia like Vietnam, which produces double, said Takashi Sumi, president and chief executive officer of Atlas Fertilizer Corporation (AFC). Next to China and India, the largest rice producers in Asia are Indonesia, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Myanmar, and Thailand, according to the International Rice Research Institute. These countries account for more than 80 percent of the world’s production.

Sumi noted that Filipino farmers are perhaps the only ones in Asia who do not get fertilizer subsidies from the government, unlike Vietnamese, Indonesian, Thai, and Indian farmers. The good news, he said, is that the government has decided to provide free irrigation. It might be an indication of subsidized fertilizer eventually, and he pointed out that the government, which wants the country to achieve 100 percent rice self-sufficiency, realizes that farmers need fertilizer, hybrid seeds, and even crop insurance. Using hybrid seeds, for example, requires fertilizers to optimize yields, he said in a press briefing.

Less than 50 percent of Philippine croplands are fertilized, said Ernest B. Ganga, AFC assistant vice president, national sales, marketing group. While there are many reasons for this, one is that farmers don’t get fertilizer subsidies from the government.

Agriculture depends on several factors, like the weather, which cannot be controlled, Ganga added. What is controllable are seeds, water, and fertilizer inputs.

Because of overuse in many locations, soils have been depleted of proper nutrients. “One [of the] objectives of Atlas…is to replenish these nutrients for our crops to survive,” he said.

Location-based crop management; the administration of the right amount of fertilizer at the right time; the proper amount of irrigation; the best management of weeds, pests, and diseases—all these are a part of Integrated Nutrient Management, which AFC Often, farmers do not use the right amount of fertilizer at the right time and location, and won’t get the optimum yield, he said, adding that it’s just like with livestock: feeds must be given at the right time and in the right amount. “What you put in is what you get. We need to provide the right kind of fertilizer, [in amounts and with timing] leading to improved yields and profitability for farmers.

It could be a mix of organic and chemical fertilizers, Ganga said. “The Department of Agriculture recommends 10 to 20 bags of organic fertilizer per hectare. Vegetable farmers in Benguet [use] about 100 bags of organic fertilizer per hectare. Corn farmers don’t use that much.”

The right amount is crucial. For example, Sumi pointed out that “too much fertilization is not good for the environment. We are teaching Filipino farmers to [use] less [inputs] but [to] get bigger [yields]. This helps farmers. This is our business philosophy.”

“We owe it to our farmers as agriculture is the backbone of this nation,” Ganga added. “AFC is just not selling fertilizers, it is selling efficient technology, teaching farmers how to use fertilizers judiciously. This advocacy is aligned with global trends. One of our obligations is how to educate farmers to maximize yields through the proper use of fertilizers. We don’t just produce and distribute fertilizers, we also concentrate on disseminating farming technology.”

This story appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s December 2017 issue.