By Zac B. Sarian

Eddie Cañuto is an engineer turned tourist farm operator who knows how to spot a project that pays well. Formerly in the lucrative construction business in Manila, he gave up his business in 2005 and founded Ephrathah Farms in Badiangan, Iloilo, which boasts of many money-making projects. One of his newer projects is taking care of more than a thousand black Rhode Island layers that produce brown eggs.

He loves the brown egg-laying chicken because its eggs sell more than double the quantity of those from ordinary white leghorn eggs. He sells each at P12.50 in Iloilo. And from his flock of over a thousand layers, he collects 700 to 800 eggs daily.

The fowls roam in a net enclosure where they can pick small creatures from the ground as part of their daily meal. In the morning and in the late afternoon, they are fed with antibioticfree commercial feed. In between, they are fed grasses and chopped banana trunk as their ‘snack’. That lowers the cost of feeding.

The chickens snack on green forage and chopped banana trunk.

His son Jonathan is a marketing genius who can sell all the eggs at a premium price together with the many other products that they produce in their 16-hectare diversified farm that has become a tourist destination. Eddie’s new plan is to produce a broiler type of colored chicken which he believes could also become a bestseller in Iloilo.

Red Lady is King

Eddie admits that his first four years in farming were a disaster. He planted the wrong crops and he also did not know much about improved technologies. His big break came in 2009 when he met Arsenio “Toto” Barcelona of Harbest Agribusiness who suggested to him to try planting Red Lady papaya. Toto provided him with a technoguide which Eddie followed to the letter—then he became successful for the first time in his farming.

From 2009 to this day, Red Lady remains as a top earner for Ephrathah Farms. SM City in Iloilo is practically buying all the papaya produced by Eddie at a premium price of PhP 35 per kilo. Eddie is lucky because his papaya trees have never been infected by the ring spot virus.

As of this writing (May 17), Ephrathah Farms has 1,000 fruiting papaya trees that produced 1.6 tons in April which is below the requirements of SM supermarket. During peak months, the farm could produce up to three tons a month, according to Jonathan, who takes care of the processing and marketing. The current inventory includes 600 2-month-old Red Lady plants, 800 2-week old plants, and for June, 1,100 seedlings were being readied for planting.

Eddie is really upbeat about papaya production. That is why he has rented two hectares for five years near his own property. The two hectares are perfect for growing papaya and with the additional area, production will be significantly boosted.

Lettuce

Romaine and Green Ice are two money makers at Ephrathah. Last April, 2.1 tons were supplied to the supermarket at R130 per kilo. The lettuces are grown in both open sun and under nets. Being prepared as of this writing is an improved facility for hydroponics production. They have adopted a technology from Vietnam which is superior to the current system available in the Philippines.

Unique Little Packs

What fascinated us during our visit to Ephrathah are the small packs of high-value crops that Jonathan has been supplying to his buyers. One of them is the violet flower of the Clitorea ternatea, known in Tagalog as Pukingan. It is a vine plant that produces dark blue flowers. The edible flowers are sold for use in salads, juices, tea and for coloring rice. (If you want to produce blue rice, boil some flowers and use the water for boiling to cook your rice. The cooked rice will be blue.)

The purple flower is edible, and sells for P36 per 40 grams or P900 per kilo.

For a pack of 40 grams of the blue flowers, Jonathan is paid P36. That translates to R900 per kilo. As of now, Jonathan can only supply 50 packs a week which means P1,800. With additional plants, he could sell more. Right now, there are beautifully growing Pukingan plants supported by posts and new plantings are being established.

Mint 

This is also marketed in small packs of 40 grams. Jonathan can sell 300 to 350 packs a week at P45 per pack, meaning P13,500 to P15,750 per week.

Basil 

This is another favorite. Jonathan can sell 500 to 600 packs of 40 grams each at P36 per pack for a total of P18,000 to P21,600. This is used in spaghetti and other culinary preparations.

Calamansi

200 kilos of calamansi are delivered to buyers every week at P65 per kilo. Jonathan observes that when tomato is cheap (as is of this writing) the price of calamansi is high. He could not give a reason why but that is his observation.

Upland Kangkong 

Aside from SM, Jonathan sells 100 kilos of kangkong to Chowking every week at P42 per kilo.

Cherry Tomato 

This is a high-value crop. Jonathan markets 270 to 300 kilos a week at P225 per kilo. That’s worth P60,750 to RP67,500.

Cucumber

Ephrathah sells 300 kilos a week at P60 per kilo. This is the green variety called General Lee.

Pangsigang Pepper

Ephrathah supplies 100 kilos of finger pepper for sinigang at P99 per kilo for a total of P9,900.

Malunggay

This is a very small volume of 5 to 10 kilos every day for SM supermarket. It is small, all right, but it contributes to the daily income anyway. The price is P72 per kilo so it can add only P360 to P720 daily. For one year, that will also add up to something. After all, malunggay does not require much care.

Helping Other Farmers

What is significant is that Ephrathah is helping other farmers to have a ready market for their harvests at prices better than those they obtain from the public market. For instance, if the price of lettuce in the market is P80 per kilo, Eddie said they buy from the farmers at as much as P130 a kilo.

Eddie showing papaya seedlings for their staggered planting.

It all started in 2015 when SM Foundation and Harbest Agribusiness conducted a season-long training on vegetable and other high-value crops production. Today, more than 100 of the trainees are supplying Ephrathah with their own produce.

Jonathan said that the farmers are producing for them squash, carrots, cucumber, pechay, sitao, alugbati, patola, upo, and others. Jonathan cites one farmer who specializes in ampalaya. In one harvesting, he could pick 150 kilos which Ephrathah buys at P30 a kilo. That means P4,500 for the ampalaya farmer in one harvest.

Leisure Fishing

Ephrathah is now preparing for a launch of its own leisure fishing recreational activity. The farm has several ponds where they grow a lot of tilapia, catfish and Japanese koi.

A building has been constructed over one of the ponds. The visitors can fish right from the ledge of the building and the catch can be immediately cooked in the kitchen – grilled, fried, or made into sinigang and other preparations.

Research Continues

Ephrathah is conducting its own research to develop new products that could be sold not only to the supermarkets but direct to the visitors of the farm. These include a Sinamak or vinegar with hot pepper and ginger. Another is dried Pukingan flowers for making tea, and others. One new crop they plan to introduce is the sweet kamias which can be a unique fresh fruit snack or used as ingredient in salads.

Accredited by DOT

Ephrathah is the first farm to be accredited as a tourism destination by the Department of Tourism. It has modern lodging facilities, swimming pool, chapel, events center and more.

Eddie Cañuto is now a fulfilled farmer. His farming has made him more famous than when he was an engineer building structures in the concrete jungle of Manila.

This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s June 2018 issue.