At present, many of the Cab 27 farmers have begun planting watermelon, which they have found to be a highly suitable crop to grow in their sandy-loam soil.

By Tony A. Rodriguez

Ilagan city is the provincial capital of Isabela, its second-largest locality in terms of land area—
all of 116,626 hectares (ha)—and the province’s most populous city. Land area-wise it’s also the largest city in Luzon and the fourth largest in the Philippines after the cities of Davao, Puerto Princesa, and Zamboanga.

Ilagan has 91 barangays—the most number of barrios in the province, including 20 that are all named Cabeseria—simply called ‘Cab’ by local residents. The farthest barangay from the city proper, Cab 27, has an area of 16,500 ha, most of these in a fertile plain on the banks of a tributary of the Ilagan River—which feeds the mighty river which gave Cagayan Valley its name. The main crop of the barangay’s farmers is yellow corn. Ilagan is the top yellow corn producer of Isabela, the country’s number one yellow corn-growing province.

Catalino Rivera displays a cut Takii Jaguar F1 watermelon during harvest time at his field in Brgy. Cab 27, Ilagan City, Isabela.

At present, many of the Cab 27 farmers have begun planting watermelon, which they have found to be a highly suitable crop to grow in their sandy-loam soil. Irrigation water is abundant as their river, fed by springs in the Sierra Madre mountains, doesn’t dry up even at the peak of the summer season.

A Pioneering Farmer

Catalino Rivera pioneered watermelon growing in the area. At first he didn’t attract much attention from the other Cab 27 farmers because the first varieties—many of them open-pollinated ones—that he planted weren’t too profitable to produce. But about three years ago, Michael Serafica, the Cagayan Valley Area Sales manager of seed and crop care company Allied Botanical Corporation (ABC), conducted a techno-demo on a portion of Rivera’s field.

The technodemo was for two outstanding hybrid watermelon varieties, Oriental Ball F1 and Jaguar F1, developed by the 180-year-old Japanese plant breeding firm Takii and Company Ltd. Takii Oriental Ball is a green-striped hybrid variety that’s the most popular and widely grown watermelon nearly all year round throughout the country today. In Bicol, farmers reportedly grow more than one Oriental Ball crop a year, even during the rainy months. It’s a market bestseller in Iloilo and southern Mindanao. Farmers in Mindoro and in Central and Northern Luzon have also begun growing much of it.

Rivera (right) and Allied Botanical Corp. agronomist Cristobal Mindaros
Jr. display Takii Oriental Ball watermelons picked at the former’s field.

The variety is notable for its strong and vigorous vines that support fruits growing as early as their seventh nodes and promote excellent fruit setting. Fast growing and prolific, the variety bears sweet large fruits with bright red flesh that mature early at 55 to 60 days after transplanting or 60-65 days after sowing. Oriental Ball fruits are uniform and large—about eight to 10 kilograms (kg) in weight if fruit thinning is practiced, and seven to eight kg without thinning. In Davao del Sur, growers produce Oriental Ball fruits weighing from 15 to 18 kg each. The fruits are highly resistant to cracking, are very sweet, do not have too many seeds, and have excellent shipping and shelf life qualities. The variety is also resistant to diseases.

Takii Jaguar F1, on the other hand, is an oval-shaped Sugar Baby-type watermelon with a glossy, dark green rind, attractive crimson-red flesh, and only a few small seeds. The most prolific of all Takii watermelon varieties, it bears fruits of excellent size and uniformity.

Jane Gabrino, who does promotion work at the Allied Botanical Corp.
dealer in Santiago City, poses with Takii Jaguar (foreground) and Oriental Ball fruits.

If allowed to produce more than one fruit per plant, these weigh from six to seven kg each. If made to bear only one fruit per plant (the practice of many progressive watermelon growers throughout the country), Takii Jaguar F1 can yield 10 kg fruits per vine. The fruits have very tough rinds that do not easily crack, thus making them ideal for shipping.

The two Takii varieties’ thick rinds give them an unbeatable quality and considerable advantage whenit comes to transport, especially to distant markets.

After he saw how the two Takii watermelon varieties performed in the ABC techno-demo and tasted their fruits, Rivera lost no time in growing them. He has done so since then, and today, many other farmers have followed his lead.

In mid-December 2014, Rivera planted a total of 15 cans of seeds—eight for Jaguar and seven for Oriental Ball—but staggered planting to harvest a quantity of fruits that would be just enough for the Ilagan market and a week delivery to his customers in Metro Manila. The medium-sized truck owned by his nephew-partners Arnel Rivera and Regie Salazar used for transporting his watermelons ensures that he always gets a good price for them even if there’s a supply glut of the fruit in Ilagan because he doesn’t depend on selling his produce to viajeros like his fellow watermelon growers.

Rivera’s nephew-partners Arnel Rivera and Regie Salazar (second and third from left, respectively), Allied Botanical Cagayan Valley Area Sales manager Michael Serafica (left), and an assistant to the nephews pose with Jaguar fruits.

Rivera and his workers sowed the watermelon seeds directly in 15-centimeter (cm)-deep holes 1.5 meters (m) apart in a single line on the long, 1.5 m-wide raised plots 30 cm high and 1.5 m distant from each other. They first put in a tablespoonful of 14-14-14 fertilizer in each hole and covered this with a layer of fine soil before dropping in one seed per hole. Their staggered sowing resulted in a total plant population of about 31,000.

They cared for the growing plants by watering them every three days, irrigating the field by flooding the furrows between the plots with water pumped from the river just a few meters away. They began weeding around the plants at seven to 14 days after emergence, and side-dressed the beds with 14-14-14 three times. They did not prune the vines which began to flower 35 days after planting. Fruits started developing at about 40 to 42 days after planting. They also did not practice fruit-thinning. Twenty-five days after flowering, the first fruits were ready for harvest.

Workers harvest Catalino Rivera’s Takii Jaguar watermelons.

Rivera says that Takii Jaguar has the edge over Oriental Ball as far as selling the watermelons is concerned. The reason for this is the smaller size of Jaguar. His nephews say that it’s also more difficult to dispose of the larger-sized Jaguar fruits that they classify as being sized 1-3 among their wholesaler customers; the smaller 4-6-sized watermelons are always the first to be bought.

His nephews add, however, that when it comes to displaying the watermelons at the wholesale market sites, it’s the Oriental Ball that’s preferred because the bright-green base color of its rind can make its surroundings look attractive, airy, and lively. With its dark-colored rind, Jaguar can make display sites look gloomy, hardly drawing buyers to come near. The wholesalers have to cut open some of the fruits so the bright red color of their flesh can compensate for their dark appearance when it comes to attracting customers.

This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s May 2015 issue.