Mechanizing the farms is great land preparation, planting, and harvesting are faster and more economical. But mechanization has its downside, too. 

By Zac Sarian

Like what is happening in Region 2, which boasts of having the most number of rice harvesters in the country. The region—which consists of Isabela, Cagayan, Nueva Vizcaya, and Quirino—has no less than 584,119 hectares planted to rice and 425,965 hectares to corn.

Today, according to Eugene Gabriel of Agri Component Manufacturing Corp., the whole rice crop in the region can be harvested in a matter of 30 days, thanks to mechanical harvesters. Previously, before the advent of the mechanical harvesters, harvesting of the rice crop took 40 to 45 days.

The combine harvester harvests palay fast.

These days, rice farmers have to harvest their crops at the same time so as not to be overtaken by rainy weather and typhoons. The result is that there are not enough mechanical dryers available to take care of the big volume of mechanically harvested rice. The trouble is that the palay, which is threshed right at harvest time, contains a lot of moisture and has to be dried within two days; otherwise, it will get spoiled. And if the days are rainy, the poor farmers will not know what to do with their harvest. They cannot dry their palay on the road as is the usual practice in many places.

Aside from the lack of mechanical dryers to take care of the huge palay harvest, there is the lack of warehousing. The result is that traders stop buying because they don’t have enough storage space. And so the palay price nosedives; instead of the usual 19 to 21 per kilo, the price goes down to 14 or even lower per kilo, according to Dennis Miguel of Santiago City. And in Tarlac, as of November 3, 2017, Dr. Rene Sumaoang reported that buyers were paying only 8 pesos per kilo of palay. The rice farmers are agonizing, he said.

The same problem is happening with the corn harvest. There aren’t enough mechanical dryers and warehousing available to the small farmers.

The typical flatbed dryer can only dry the harvest from one hectare in one day.

What the government should do is to help make the dryers available to rice and corn farmers. After all, the DA has a lot of funds for subsidizing the farmers. There are locally manufactured mobile and recirculating dryers by Agricomp using the LSU (Louisiana State University) model, according to Gabriel. The locally manufactured dryers can dry, within a few hours, batches of four, six, and 20 tons. These are much more economical than the imported ones from China, the United States, and Europe, he adds.

Another way the Department of Agriculture can help rice farmers is to make available the compact rice mill that has been proven to be an important factor in giving access to efficient rice milling in different communities.

The LeeWha compact rice mill from Korea, for instance, can do sophisticated milling that the so-called rice processing complex (RPC) can achieve. It has a high recovery rate and is affordable at a little over 230,000 per unit. It occupies just a small space and can run on electricity or be attached to a tractor.

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