A native plant from Central and South America, dragon fruit (Hylocereus undatus) or "pitaya" is gaining its own niche in the Philippine market.
Although this vine-line cactus has been widely cultivated in the neighboring Asian countries such as Malaysia, Vietnam, and Thailand where the weather is conducive for growing this humid-loving fruit, it only reached the Philippine soil just recently.
Given its economic value and competitive advantage in the local fruit industry, it is gaining immediate popularity among interested farmers/producers.
A techno-demo farm on dragon fruit
Since the dragon fruit industry is still relatively new in the Philippines, production technology remains a major constraint.
Thus, in 2003, a technology demonstration on dragonfruit production was established at the Central Experiment Station (CES) of the Southern Mindanao Integrated Agricultural Research Center (SMIARC) in Manambulan, Tugbok, Davao City.
With funding support from the Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR) through its Agribusiness Development Project (ADP), the techno-demo farm aimed to: 1) showcase technology on the production of dragonfruit, 2) mass propagate and distribute to other regional research station or interested growers, and 3) determine the economic value of dragonfruit.
Leading this initiative is Mr. Noel T. Estellena, SMIARC's senior agriculturist and lead researcher for the ADP on dragon fruit. SMIARC started establishing the dragon fruit production with tree-fourth hectare land area and the planting materials initially came from Indang, Cavite.
ADPs are on-station researches implemented by the DA Research Stations in all the Regional Field Units (RFUs) to showcase new or advanced technologies that will enhance profitability of a farming/fishing enterprise. It is an income-generating activity that aims to strengthen the strategy of teaching by example, demonstrating the profitability of new/ appropriate technologies that are suited to the conditions of the region to the farmers, and then transferring these new technologies to rural communities of the Regional Integrated Agricultural Research Centers' (RIARCs) and Research Outreach Stations' (ROSes).
The income derived from the ADP is plowed back to the project for sustainability, expansion, and support to R&D activities and facility rehabilitation of the regional experimental stations. Expectedly, 16 RIARCs and 84 ROSes are expected to benefit from the ADPs.
Production technologies showcased
A group from BAR has recently visited the techno-demo farm to document the success of this ADP project.
Among the technologies for dragon fruit production showcased in the experimental station are: propagation by cuttings, appropriate distance planting, using concrete posts and indigenous materials as trellis, applying organic fertilizer, and proper cultural management practices.
According to Mr. Estellena, dragon fruit can be propagated by seeds or stem cuttings but the latter is much favored. "From the cuttings, we plant them in plastic bags for two months and transfer them in an open field. The recommended planting distance is three meters between posts and four meters between rows," he explained. Proper distance planting is important since a narrower spacing gives quicker production than larger spacing.
Dragon fruit must be planted in an open field with direct exposure to sunlight. They are not conducive in areas where rainfall is well distributed.
One technology that SMIARC is using is the application of trellis in the plantation. Mr. Estellena explained that the lifeblood of the dragon fruit is in the trellis. Once the trellis collapsed, the plant hardly survives.
The life span of dragon fruit is around 20 years depending on the durability of the trellis. A concrete posts with iron round bar on top was used as to support the plant. This has to be established three weeks prior to crop establishment.
"Here at SMIARC, aside from the concrete posts, we make use of various indigenous materials as trellises such as the madre de cacao, kalumpang, and magcuno tree," Estellena explained.
In terms of nutrient management, a combination of organic and complete fertilizer (14-14-14) was applied. "We use more organic and more nitrogen. The ideal is to apply fertilizer every 3 months if possible, but what we do at the station is we apply every six months. We are using 2 kg of organic + 25 g urea + 75 g complete fertilizer which we apply per plant," he said.
Estellena also explained the importance of pruning in the production of dragon fruit. He said that, "We need to regularly prune them to obtain an open, manageable, and productive umbrella shape canopy. Also, it is important that we prune right after we harvest the fruits regular pruning as this will induce new shoots for the next cropping season."
After establishing the plant in the field, it would take around 26 months to bear fruits. Harvest must be done 35-40 days after the flower opening.
Profit from dragon fruits
Five years since its establishment, the techno-demo farm in Manambulan, Davao City is frequently visited by interested farmers who wanted to grow dragon fruit and even buyers in Davao City. With the successful technologies in dragon fruit now available, better opportunities, both production- and market-wise, lie ahead.
The potential of dragonfruit is very much bright according to Mr. Estellena because it commands a very high price in the local market; it costs around P120-150 per kilo. He further that, a three-year old dragonfruit can produce 5-6 t/ha amounting to P720,000 in the local market alone. Considering is current demand, it is no wonder that dragon fruit is now dubbed as the new money crop-truly, a high revenue earner.
Aside from showcasing the production technologies on dragon fruit, the group of Mr. Estellena is already distributing planting materials to interested growers. Since the techno-demo farm was established, they have distributed around 3, 000 seedlings/cuttings of dragon fruit in Nueva Ecija in Luzon, Bohol in Visayas, and in Bukidnon in Mindanao for trial productions.