Domoguen: Hydroponic farming, the way forward for highland agriculture

Mountain Light

NINE large greenhouses were constructed at the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) and Department of Agriculture (DA) regional office compound in Guisad, Baguio City last CY 2018.

These are not ordinary greenhouses. Built-in partnership with the South Korean government through the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) and private corporations, the horticultural structures are meant to revolutionize and model a way forward in highland agricultural production.

The project was valued at USD 2.43 million or about P122.29 million. Eight of the greenhouses have been utilized for farmers' education and training and 1 facility was allotted for research and development (R&D).

It is now 2020 and I wanted to be updated about what the facility has gifted us so far.

According to Mrs. Juliet Ochasan, Supervising Agriculturist of BPI-Baguio, the greenhouses have been used by the bureau and its farmer-trainees to produce tomatoes through hydroponics farming. Lately, the project added bell pepper and strawberries in the crops they are growing.

She estimated a maximum production capacity for the greenhouses at two to three for six months.

The production is split 70 percent for the farmers and 30 percent going to the project to cover the cost of operations.

Our greenhouse training for farmers is done in six months at 16 participants per batch, Mrs. Ochasan added.

Since 2018, the project trained three batches of farmers from the Cordillera on greenhouse hydroponics farming.

From our talk with Mrs. Ochasan, I can define hydroponics farming simply as soil-less farming. You can easily see why this is so if you visit the insides of the greenhouses where plants are growing not on the soil but are fed on a container with coir dust where the roots of the plants burrow and absorb nutrients from the built-in irrigation mixture circulating in the system.

I like this simple definition because it allows you to expand its practice depending on your condition, situation, and preference.

I heard from an overseas friend that you can set up your hydroponics farm in a space as small as a cubicle-sized room fitted with a tech support system that creates an artificial environment conducive for growth. Filipino overseas workers in the Middle East are already adept with this system. Or, you can farm using an engineering complex like this greenhouse project that we are currently discussing.

With large greenhouses, you can imagine farming and cultivation pulsating with life — a fresh harvest of different varieties of fruits and vegetables even rice in the middle of the forest or urban communities. You can farm and produce what you need for the home or market faster and more efficiently using the science and principle of hydroponic farming.

In both large or small-scale hydroponic farming, you can grow your plants naturally, drawing nutrients out of containers or tanks filled with nutrient-rich and water-based solutions, under controlled sunlight, generated blue or red lights, and regulated temperature conditions.

If you are an open-field farmer and it is your first time inside a hydroponic greenhouse, you need to adjust to a lot of techniques, terminologies, images, and possibilities. But know that this is an engineering innovation and do your best to think like an engineer. Then simplify things and make it come to your level and serve your purposes, never mind if you have fully grasped what an inert medium such as perlite or gravel got to do with growing your terrestrial plants.

But really, after our talks with Mrs. Ochasan and a brief moment inside the hydroponic greenhouse, I wished our Engineering and Research Divisions fully participated in the activities of this project. By understanding hydroponic farming, we could certainly evolve models that we can introduce for urban gardening, and community farming.

Can you imagine a community in the highlands returning all their open-field farms to the forest and start constructing consolidated hydroponic greenhouses instead? They can yet produce clean, high export quality vegetables and fruits inside the greenhouses not under the weather in greater quantities, all year round. They can also program their produce in a manner that is beneficial to them and the consumers.

The concept is enticing but I can also imagine drawbacks to this. I do not know if our people can relate to the complex setup of a hydroponics farm. It requires technical expertise that the DA should have and provide. And the maintenance cost could be huge unless it is run by solar power.

Taking a cue from Mr. Danilo Agliam, who pioneered low-cost hydroponics farming in Baguio City, I can yet somehow construct a low-cost hydroponics system inside my abode when I live in a place better situated than where I am now.


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