February 26, 2018, 3:13 am
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Low harvests disappoint high demand for potato

LA TRINIDAD, Benguet - High market demand but low production and supply beset the country’s multi-million peso potato industry.

And that means less income for upland farmers in the Cordilleras.

The semi-temperate region harvests most of the potato crop in the country, accounting for 99,981 metric tons in 2016. The tubers come mostly from Benguet (88,771 MT) with 88.8 percent of the total potato production in the region, followed by Mountain Province with (11,090 MT) 11.1 percent.  

In 2007, the Philippines produced some 110,752 MT of potatoes, mostly in the Cordillera Administrative Region (85 percent), Davao (8.3 percent) and Northern Mindanao (5.7 percent). 

Increasing demands – for example, for French fries and for feed – led to the importation of about 46,887 MT or a third of total demand; that was worth $26.3 million, mostly sourced from Canada, the United States, Australia and China.

Along with the huge potentials for the high-value crop, potato farming is currently faced with several problems, said Teresita Masangcay, a senior research specialist at the Benguet State University (BSU) and the Northern Philippines Root Crops Research and Training Center.

Production problems are also beset by insufficient seed supply and, when available, low seed quality. Bacterial wilt and cyst nematode infestation also contribute to low production, Masangcay said.

The use of non-conventional planting materials such as the pea-sized tuber and stem cutting as well as the use of the local potato variety called Igorota was recommended by Masangcay during the Technology Forum on Potato at the Farms and Industry Encounters through the Science and Technology Agenda (FIESTA) of the Highland Agriculture, Aquatic and Resources Research and Development Consortium (HAARRDEC) here.

FIESTA was co-hosted by the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCAARRD), Department of Science and Technology, to showcase research and development from production to processing to technology transfer. 

PCAARRD and its partners, in this case BSU and HAARRDEC, gathered scientists, farmers and small entrepreneurs to showcase technologies, innovations, products and services; assist the transfer of new technologies for better farming; and connect scientists and farmers.

Igorota is the variety developed in the highlands recommended for better production and income for the farmers, Masangcay said. “It also addresses the issue of low seed quality because it is high yielding and moderately resistant to late blight and leaf miner.”

Although there are no available varieties resistant to these diseases yet, proper management can be used to limit the damage such as the use of clean planting materials, removal of infected plants, crop rotation and improved farm practices, she said.

One such practice is the use of Trichoderma, which is a beneficial microorganism and an effective natural control agent in managing potato diseases.  

The Igorota along with the Bengueta varieties were recently introduced by the Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Agricultural Research and the Northern Philippines Root Crops Research and Training Center, initially for farmers in Mountain Province.

Some 30,000 stem cuttings of the high-yielding potato varieties are expected to double or even triple the yield compared to those produced with the use of traditional planting materials and varieties.

The Igorota and Bengueta varieties are considered the best by Cordillera farmers because these are well-adapted to local conditions, are high yielding, resistant to late blight and have favorable culinary qualities.

Farmers in Atok, Madaymen, Buguias and Mankayan in Benguet, and in Bauko and Besao towns in Mountain Province were trained in planting and managing the new varieties approved by the National Seed Industry Council.
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