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Finding 'gold' in waste: The bio-organic fertilizer production experience in Tarlac

Diana Rose A. de Leon

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Healthier soil bears healthier food - this is the mantra of organic farming advocates. Supportive to this philosophy is the use of organic fertilizer.

Known as the 'rice bowl of the Philippines' and Tarlac next to Negros Occidental as the country's sugar capital, Central Luzon does not only capitalize on its rice and sugar but also to its by-products. Through the project, Bio-organic Fertilizer Production Project, implemented by the Department of Agriculture-Central Luzon Integrated Agricultural Research Center for Lowland Development (DA-CLIARCLD), agricultural by-products including sugarcane bagasse, mudpress, and rice straws are not put to waste.

Free-flowing raw materials

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Through the National Organic Program of the Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR), the problems with high-priced inputs (fertilizers, chemicals, etc.), mismanagement of renewable farm sources, environment pollution, and others were given specific attention. CLIARC, as the research and development (R&D) arm in Central Luzon, thought of a better way to contribute in this program and at the same time provide a source of livelihood to the community.

According to the project proponents, through the use of organic fertilizers, producing quality but safe food is just few steps away. Using organic inputs, not only helps in maintaining soil fertility but also promotes recycling farm wastes as inputs for organic fertilizer production. Sugarcane bagasse, mudpress, rice straws, chicken dung, hog manure, and other crop residues were the main raw materials for the fertilizer production. It does not add to operation costs because they are readily-available and are abundantly found in Central Luzon.

According to a resource inventory, Central Luzon has more than 600,000 hectares of agricultural lands majority of which produces rice, corn, sugarcane, vegetables and livestock. For rice straw alone, it is estimated that the region generates 4,000,000 metric tons (mt), and 369,000 mt of rice hull. It is estimated that in four sugar mills operating in the region, more or less 3.4 million mt of bagasse were being produced in just five months of operation. Apart from by-products of rice and sugar, 15 million mt of manure are generated by livestock farms. There are other farm residues such as sweet potato vines, corn stover, hay or cobs, and legume hay. Taking advantage of the abundance of these by-products leads into the development of a profitable agribusiness enterprise. As a starter, the project utilized by-products from CLIARCLD and nearby areas.

The project was designed to be implemented into two phases. First phase was designed to develop a "farm enterprise" model, which means to establish an on-station bio-organic fertilizer production plant that could bring forth package of technology (POT) on organic fertilizer processing/production, product development inorganic fertilizers out of biodegradable farm wastes, and income to the station. The second phase included the R&D component of the project wherein on-station and on-farm studies to document were conducted and effect of using their produce bio-organic fertilizers in major commodities was tested.

Developing the bio-organic fertilizer protocol

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One of the objectives of the project was to create a protocol on organic fertilizer production (Fig.1). The production process involved composting which used a commercial compost activator enriched with nitrogen-fixing bacteria and fungi. It will take 28-35 days to produce an average of 100 bags per batch/cycle.

At first, they utilized the commercial activator. However, this commercial activator is relatively expensive (Php 400/kg), thus, it motivated them to develop their own activator using indigenous microorganisms (IMO). They also integrated the use of African night crawler (vermicomposting) to lessen the production cost in turning and sifting of organic fertilizers.

Bio-organic Fertilizer Production Process

  1. Gather biodegradable raw materials in the working area.
  2. Shred raw materials using a mechanical shredder if necessary.
  3. Bag and weigh raw materials to compute for proportions of each material based on nature and moisture content.
  4. Pile the raw materials while watering if moisture is below 50%.
  5. Inoculate with activator while piling to attain well-distributed inoculants.
  6. Turn the pile every 2 days for seven times and check decomposition process within pile to determine if additional decomposition period is required. Moist the pile if necessary.
  7. Sieve the pile after the 7th turning.
  8. "Sweeten" pile to cool down temperature and open pile for 7 days to reduce moisture to 40%.
  9. Bag and weigh the finished bio-organic fertilizer. Close bag and store inside a storage house or in shaded area.

Before they came up with the protocol, the raw materials were analyzed to determine the content levels of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). The organic fertilizer itself underwent a series of formulation trials. In the first trial, the fertilizer produced had low nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium levels. They attributed the result to the low percentage of manure used. In second trial, they had increased the manure percentage, thus, improving the NPK content of the fertilizer. It is not until the third formulation trial that the desired minimum quality of bio-organic fertilizer was achieved. They further increased the amount of manure used and added mudpress and ash, which contained more NPK, in the formulation. The end-product was a well-process organic fertilizer with an average of 2 percent nitrogen, 1.9 perecent phosphorus, and 1.5 percent potassium. It is dark brown, loose textures, no foul smell and chemical-free.

Producing quality organic fertilizer as agribusiness

Another objective of the project is to be able to produce a quality organic fertilizer that will be used by the research centers and farmers as an agribusiness venture. According to the project proponent Dr. Irene Adion of CLIARCLD, the primary market for their fertilizers are the research stations that implement projects such as the Community-based Participatory Action Research (CPAR)-assisted rice production, High Value Commercial Crops Development Program (HVCC)-assisted projects, and on-station crop production projects. Through the project, market in nearby villages and towns was also established linking more farmers for business opportunities.

Currently, the selling price of the organic fertilizer ranges from 200 to 300 pesos per bag (50 kg). In the station, the wholesale selling price is 200 pesos per bag. For retail (less than 50 bags), it is sold at 250 pesos per bag.

Though the project has been long terminated, the organic fertilizer production is still continuing. Dr. Adion said that the key to the sustainability of the project is the free-of-charge and continuous supply of raw materials.

The CLIARCLD is planning to transfer the organic fertilizer production operation to MALAGO Service Cooperative in able to formally launch it as a business enterprise operated by the community. The cooperative was organized in April 2011 and members are comprised of DA-CLIARCLD employees.

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For more information, please contact: Dr. Irene Adion, Agricultural Center Chief III, Department of Agriculture-Central Luzon Integrated Agricultural Research Center for Lowland Development (DA-CLIARCLD), Paraiso, Tarlac
Tel. No. (045) 985-1256 or email address: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.