Kapampangan farmer tops national average for SSNM cassava

As a child, Dr. Richard Torno did not dream of becoming a farmer one day. In fact, he pursued to be a veterinarian and worked his way to an international animal hospital based in Singapore.

Forty-two years later today, Dr. Torno is not only a community vet, but a remarkably successful farmer who holds the largest production of cassava in the entire Philippines.

Dr. Torno hails from Ascomo in Guagua, Pampanga with his wife and three children. His father, who is his greatest influence in farming, introduced him to cassava, among other crops.

Cassava in the Philippines

Cassava, or kamoteng kahoy to Filipinos, is one of the most important crops in the country. In many rural areas, it is considered a staple food and a substitute to rice because of its high carbohydrate content. About 15 million Filipinos eat cassava both as a staple and supplement, and more than 218,000 farm families depend on cassava for a living.

From being an undervalued crop in the past years, farmers and stakeholders began to recognize the value and many potentials of cassava.

Cassava is mainly used as food, processed feeds, and starch. Processed feeds remain to be cassava’s main utilization accounting to more than 50 percent of the total production of the country. Dr. Torno hopes to break this pattern, if possible, and utilize more of cassava for human food.

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Self-taught, self-help farmer

Ask anything about veterinary medicine, Dr. Torno would answer in a blink of an eye. He is a doctor, to begin with. However, when it comes to farming, he admitted he needed to start from scratch, with only the desire to learn and the courage to risk even his rising career as a vet in Singapore.

It was in 2004 when he began his journey as a fulltime farmer. “Na-convince talaga ako na mag farming kasi naisip ko, labing-isa kaming magkakapatid, at lahat kami napagtapos ng tatay namin ng pag-aaral na pagsasaka ang hanapbuhay niya. Bukod pa roon, siya na rin ang nagma-market ng produce niya,” Dr. Torno said. “So yun ang ginaya ko,” he added. This, according to him, was the deal breaker.

Apparently, it was also during this time when cassava dealt with extensive losses due to the proliferation of pest and diseases. “Natatandaan ko noon na nagkaroon ng problema ang cassava sa Leyte. Dahil don, bumaba ang bilang ng mga farmers na gustong magtanim ng cassava. Humina rin ang market. Ayaw na ng mga tao kumain ng cassava,” Dr. Torno said. This however did not discourage him to still plant cassava.

“So ang ginawa ko, nagtanim ako. Sinamantala ko yon. Sumugal ako. Nagtanim ako ng cassava sa 7 hectares na lupa. Hindi ko pa alam ang proseso noon kung paano, so lagi akong nagtatanong sa tatay ko,” he shared. His father then, being a longtime farmer, advised him too to go to other farmers to learn different techniques and gain practical knowledge. “Sabi ng tatay ko na tanungin ko ang mga kilala niyang farmers na magaling sa planting, meron rin magaling sa pagpapataba, meron namang magaling sa pagku-cultivate, sa timing. So ang ginawa ko, I compiled lahat ng natutunan ko sa kanila, kasama na ang mga tinuro rin sa akin ng tatay ko,” Dr. Torno shared.

Such practice, coupled with sipag at tyaga as they say, resulted to a significantly good yield then. The income Dr. Torno earned out of the seven-hectare production area enabled him to purchase farm implements such as a tractor, fertilizers, and additional savings he later used as capital.

Farmers’ practice

According to Dr. Torno, there are four success variables in his cassava production with respect to his conventional practices: soil type, planting practice, climate, and crop rotation practices.

With cassava production areas in Florida Blanca, Porac, and in Guagua in Pampanga, Dr. Torno considered this a good advantage over other cassava areas from other regions. Pampanga’s soil type – thanks to lahar – is sandy loam which is an ideal soil for the crop. The region is also fairly hot and humid on most months, creating a conducive growing environment for the crop especially during the planting season, which begins from January to February. “Hinahayaan muna namin na pawala na ang moisture. Kasi pag tubo ng cassava tapos wala nang gaanong moisture, tipid kami sa alaga o maintenance ng cassava. Napansin kasi namin na pag nagtanim kami around November to December, mataas ang moisture,” he said.

Deep ploughing also plays a crucial role in generating quality tubers. “Ang key rin talaga ay deep ploughing, kasi tubers yan. Kailangang mabasag ang hardpan ng lupa kasi, paano lalaki or magpe-penetrate kung matigas ang lupa? Pag deep ploughed, makaka-penetrate rin ang moisture,” Dr. Torno added.

He also mentioned that he keeps a close eye on managing weeds that grow around the area. “Kalaban mo rin ang weeds kaya lagi dapat nagpapa-araro, paulit-ulit dapat yan,” he shared.

One of the practices that keep cassava pests at bay is through crop rotation. This, according to Dr. Torno, is carried out by planting other crops such as corn and sweet potato.

For replanting, he mentioned that he gets planting materials from nearby farms who also share the same farming practices like his. He does not set aside a portion of his harvest as planting materials for the next season as this will entail longer storage, since he implements crop rotation patterns. “Hindi kami yung pag nagha-harvest, itatabi mo para maitanim mo sa susunod. Hindi na kasi fresh yon. We practice na pag magtatanim kami, laging fresh and newly harvested ang planting materials. Based sa experience kasi namin, pag ganon ang practice, ang taas ng mortality ng cassava,” Dr. Torno emphasized.

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SSNM intervention

Although Dr. Torno has been quite successful using conventional practice, it did not stop him from acquiring new learnings and additional knowledge to continuously improve his production.

When the Department of Agriculture-Regional Field Office (DA-RFO) 3, Research Division and Corn and Cassava Banner program implemented a project on the Site Specific Nutrient Management (SSNM) for Cassava, Dr. Torno was enthusiastic to be considered as one of its farmer-partners.

In partnership with the Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR), the project carried out field fertilizer trials using the SSNM protocol for the development of cassava fertilizer recommendations. The SSNM program for cassava is a research and development (R&D) initiative on acquiring a new technology that will identify the minimum fertilizer requirement for cassava to reach its optimum and maximum production.

Fertilizer trials through omission plots were conducted at different locations in region 3 using 4 replications. Two cassava varieties, Lakan 1 and Pinusuan (a local farmer’s variety) were used in the field experiment.

The project was able to determine the amount of nutrients being taken by the crop at certain growth stages, which, in turn, defined the correct timing of fertilizer application for maximum nutrient utilization. Further, to maintain soil health, the project also determined the amount of nutrient content of the different plant parts of cassava that can supply more nutrient to the soil once returned to the field.

Based on the results of the experiment, Dr. Torno acquired the highest yield of cassava at 33 tons/hectare (t/ha) versus farmers’ practice at 27 t/ha. On the average, SSNM yields 24 t/ha while farmers’ practice resulted to 20 t/ha.

Currently, the national average for SSNM cassava ranges from 12-14 t/ha. This means that Dr. Torno’s production using the SSNM recommendations exceeded the national average by almost 50 percent.

With farmers’ practice and SSNM technology combined, Dr. Torno’s produce ranged from 40-60 t/ha, making it the largest production in the entire country. 70% of his fresh produce is marketed in many parts of Metro Manila such as Divisoria, Muñoz, Pasig, Marikina, as well as in some provinces of Central Luzon. He also regularly supplies fresh tubers to major cassava cake processors, such as Don Benito’s, whose cassava consumption requires 7-10 tons per day.

Being able to link with Mekeni, a Pampanga-based food corporation giant, Dr. Torno’s cassava produce far reaches other countries such as the United States of America, Australia, Japan, and Dubai.

Future plans

Dr. Torno’s success on farming is something he said he did not honestly expect, but 100 percent worked hard for.

When asked what he still wants to accomplish, Dr. Torno said that he envisions the possibility of being able to produce for a year-round supply of fresh cassava. Also, since raw cassava tubers are highly perishable, he plans to embark on value adding technologies to produce grated vacuum pressed grated cassava. “Malaki ang market talaga ng cassava. Sa mga cake processors pa lang, raw ingredient nila ito. So naisip ko, pano if magkaroon tayo ng mga processor outlets na imbes na bibilin sa atin ng fresh, grated na ang maipo-provide natin? Kasi pag ganito, mas maitatabi mo siya ng mas matagal, mas matagal ang shelf life niya,” he explained.

While it’s reasonably easy to be overpowered with this kind of success, Dr. Torno remains focused on his goal.

“Hindi tayo magsasawang matuto ng bagong mga teknolohiya para mas maging successful pa ang industriya ng cassava sa atin. Magandang bagay na may R&D support tayo mula sa gobyerno, sa BAR, kasi talagang ina-actual ang research, nakikita talaga namin kung saan o ano ang pwede pa naming i-improve,” he concluded. ### (Daryl Lou A. Battad)

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Contact details:

Dr. Richard S. Torno

Ascomo, Guagua, Pampanga

Phone:  +63939-622-5578

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