Sustaining and promoting La Trinidad’s strawberry tourism through tissue culture (First of Two Parts)

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By Robert L. Domoguen

Mountain Light

Monday, March 24, 2014


THE town of La Trinidad is celebrating the month of March as "Strawberry Festival Month." Strawberry is the "One Town One Product" (OTOP) of the town.

Over the years, La Trinidad is the gateway of new agricultural commodities for the Cordillera’s interior highland towns. Strawberries actually follow the path taken by other vegetable commodities through the Halsema vegetable corridor.

Of late, the Benguet State University made La Trinidad famous by growing strawberries in its lot covering most of what remains of the town’s swamp area, the womb where technical knowledge for most of the temperate vegetable, ornamental and fruit commodities were introduced and born to the semi-temperate conditions in this mountainous region of North Luzon.

With the success of the local farmers in adapting strawberries to the local clime, their counterparts in the interior towns of Atok, even Sagada and Bontoc in Mountain Province have grown the crop with success in previous years, with help from the Department of Agriculture (DA).

Mr. Francis Ching, the most successful strawberry grower outside of La Trinidad grows the crop in-season and off-season inside greenhouses in his farm in Cada, Mankayan, Benguet, which is part of the Mount Data Plateau. But he is not alone these days, according to Joan Dimas-Bacbac, regional focal person of the DA’s High Value Commercial Crops Development Program (HVCDP). We are encouraging other farmers to grow strawberries in the highlands of Benguet, Mountain Province and Ifugao, she said.

When the town was known as the “salad bowl” of the nation, the Chinese were introducing the same vegetables along the Halsema vegetable corridor. Today the old tag has been transformed where La Trinidad is associated today as the gateway of the best highland semi-temperate vegetables to Metro Manila and elsewhere in the country.

As in the early days when La Trinidad has been the “Salad Bowl” of the country, Strawberries draws tourist and business people to the town during summer even as the DA regional office promotes strawberry production in the interior mountain towns of the region.

La Trinidad is now the “strawberry fields” of the Cordillera. When the town was then the “salad bowl” of the nation, early Chinese migrants were introducing the same vegetables grown in the town along the Halsema vegetable corridor. This old tag has been transformed over the years, and La Trinidad is associated today as the gateway of the best highland semi-temperate vegetables to Metro Manila and elsewhere in the country.

Farmers in Bahong, La Trinidad, were the first to grow several varieties of roses on a commercial scale. and later, enterprising farmers added other types of cutflowers using greenhouses. Then DA Secretary William D. Dar, in the quest to promote the town’s cutflower industry declared Bahong as the rose and flower capital of the country.

Cutflower and cactus production in the open field or under controlled environment has since spread to various towns in Benguet. These towns help sustain the colourful Panagbenga Festival of Baguio.

Limited land and resources hinder the full-grown growth and development of the strawberry industry, in spite of the great demand and potential of the industry as lucrative source of income and livelihood for the farmers and other industry stakeholders. This is among the reasons why the DA regional office, through its HVCDP program wants to expand the strawberry production areas in the region.

Yet again, La Trinidad is playing a key role in this thrust through a time-tested extension system that promotes the use of “tissue culture in systematizing the production of clean and quality strawberry planting materials.”

Tissue culture is a biotechnology technique that harvest living cells from any plant part and facilitate the growth of new plants in a sterile lab environment. It is advantageous for mass production of quality planting materials, as it allow for exact replication in many locations on a large scale at any time of selected plants whose qualities are most preferred.

The tissue-culture extension system introduces a forward-looking vision for strawberry production in the Cordillera that the other highland towns could adopt or improved on for their local farmer constituents.

It seeks to correct the current system seedling distribution and marketing that makes farmers grow any strawberry planting material that are more often bought from unreliable sources.

“Most farmers plant daughter crowns (planting materials) which they buy in bulk on a per plot basis and which they re-use for 2-5 planting seasons,” according to the authors of a paper describing the tissue culture extension system for strawberries set-up in La Trinidad town by the local government unit (LGU) and DA.

The authors include Joan Bacbac, HVCDP regional focal person; Felicitas Ticbaen, Municipal Agriculturist; and Marilyn Sta. Catalina, DA-CAR Regional Director, who claimed that the conventional practice of farmers described above, “reduces runner production, fruit yield and quality.” They added that about 80 percent of yield reduction is due to viral and other diseases which could be prevented with the use of clean tissue cultured planting materials.

The strawberry extension program for the production of planting materials relies on the evaluation done by the La Trinidad LGU on the good qualities of existing and LGU imported strawberry varieties. The LGU supplies runner tips of selected plants to the DA for tissue culture propagation, acclimatization and production of mother plants.

The DA returns good quality mother plants to the La Trinidad LGU or accredited farmers associations and cooperatives (FA/FC) in the locality for runner production. The clean and quality runners are ultimately distributed to the trained members of these farmers’ associations and cooperatives on the production of strawberries from tissue-cultured quality planting materials.

For the benefited of interested farmers, we will look into the details of this operation and solicit inputs from local farmers about its benefits in our next column.

Meantime, the Strawberry Festival needs more improvement in its planning and staging to promote fresh strawberry and its by-products, just like the way the Pangbenga Festival promotes highland flowers. In both festivals, fresh and products must be abundant for sale. Specifically for the Strawberry Festival there must be added wine, jelly and jam tasting to main events, a friend who looks forward to participating in the festival suggested.

Abundant production of strawberry is dependent on high quality, and clean tissue-cultured strawberry planting materials, according to the experts.

Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on March 25, 2014.

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