A new technology developed in Malaysia can make old rubber trees productive again. Trees that are more than 50 years old at the rubber plantation of the Central Mindanao University in Bukidnon are producing about three times the latex of old trees not treated with the stimulant.

The technology uses a simple apparatus called Hevea H288 which injects ethylene into the latex vessels of the tree, stimulating latex flow as a result. According to Dr. Reymon Ruba, director of the Income-Generating Projects of CMU, 450 old trees that they tap every three days can yield 80 to 90 kilos of latex in one tapping. Before they adopted the new technology, the same number of trees usually yielded just about 20 kilos per tapping every two days.

Dr. Ruba revealed that he has been using the apparatus for more than a year now since Zetryl Chem Philippines introduced it for testing. The university has 142 hectares of rubber, 39,000 trees of which are productive. Many of the trees are over 50 years old but are still yielding decent amount of latex, thanks to the Hevea H288 apparatus.

Dr. Reymon Ruba installing H288 apparatus on an old rubber tree.

The apparatus should be used only on healthy trees, according to Dr. Ruba. It is not advisable for use in trees that are diseased or have been damaged for one reason or another. Dr. Ruba does not advise to use the technology on trees that are younger than 10 years old although it can be done. The reason is that the young trees will develop their trunks faster and in the long run, will yield more latex.

Old trees that are being stimulated with ethylene should be fertilized with a balanced fertilizer like Z-Fert which contains the macro elements (NPK) and all the micronutrients needed by the trees for their good health and productivity.

Rubber, like other agricultural commodities, is subject to price volatility. Sometimes, the price is very high but there are also times when the same goes down very low. What is good about rubber, however, is that the products (cuplumps and creepe) can be stored for several years without spoilage. They have to be stored under favorable conditions, however. Creepe, by the way, is the rubber sheet that results when the coagulated latex is passed through a creeping machine.

Dr. Ruba said that they harvest about 140 tons of cuplumps and creepe in one year from their plantation. Today, the cuplumps fetch R35 a kilo and a creepe commands R90 per kilo. CMU sells its production half as cuplump and half as creepe. A few years back, the price of rubber was high so that CMU was able to sell P21-million worth of cuplumps and creepe. Because last year’s prices were low, Dr. Ruba said they decided not to sell all their stocks. They sold only P7.8 million.

Dr. Ruba said that with the Hevea H288 apparatus, rubber production could be much more profitable. The use of the apparatus is very economical. The ethylene gas used to stimulate one tree per tapping costs only one to two pesos. The apparatus is not expensive because it consists only of a plug, a plastic pouch, and a short plastic hose.

CMU has 142 hectares of rubber plantation with 39,000 trees that are productive.

The CMU plantation serves not just for latex production. It also serves as a research and training center. The rubber project has accessions of different varieties from Malaysia, Indonesia, and elsewhere. The long time variety in use is RRIM 600 from Malaysia. It has high latex yield but rubber recovery is considered low at 20 to 30 percent. A variety from Indonesia, PB 86, has a lower latex yield than RRIM but has a higher rubber recovery of 35%. It usually yields 1,800 kilos of dry rubber per hectare. A newer variety from Indonesia, PB 260, has a higher yield of about 2,000 kilos of dry rubber per hectare.

The CMU rubber project is also a source of planting materials for farmers. They produce budded rubber planting materials which sell for P35 apiece. Budding is very easy and there is plenty of rootstocks grown from seeds of ordinary varieties. Aside from selling budded seedlings, Dr. Ruba said they also sell budsticks of recommended varieties to nursery operators. A budstick that is a meter long with about 20 bud eyes sells for P25.

So there are different ways of making money in the rubber industry. One can also specialize in producing budded planting materials of budsticks for sale.

This appeared without a byline in Agriculture Monthly’s November 2018 issue.