Yes, plant fruit trees, coconut, and other perennial crops with haste. For those who work in the office day after day, such can be incorporated in the retirement plan. Such a farm can be a comfortable retreat after years of going back and forth to office. As admitted by those traditional monocrop corn farmers, it can raise the market value of a farm and so it can become a sound investment.
If you are one of those who call themselves poor farmers and yet own and live in a farm which remains weedy and barely productive, make a turn-around. If that farm has a rugged terrain which is hardly suitable to annual crops, now should be the right time to plant fruit trees and other permanent crops. Not later, not tomorrow, not another year.
Stop being intransigent, stop giving alibis, put an immediate end to the time wasting. By all means continue growing corn, but improvise and be more productive. Stop practicing pure monocropping and diversify, adopt multiple cropping. Plant fruit trees, coconut, and/or other perennial crops.
A farmer who rarely goes to the market or sari-sari store to buy vegetables and spices because these are always available around his bahay-kubo (small house made of indigenous materials) can easily make it. After all, why must a landed farmer who calls himself poor still spend scarce money to buy the vegetables and spices which he can otherwise easily grow in the backyard? If he can’t grow by himself these necessities, how will he manage to plant fruit trees and other permanent crops? Certaintly this is more physically demanding and further needs more time in taking care of of the plants.
Note: This article is particularly intended for the benefit of those poor but landed farmers who continue to depend mainly on corn farming. However, it is quite impossible that these farmers will ever read and understand this.
This should therefore be a call - and a challenge too! - for those who are engaged in agricultural education and rural development initiatives. For these concerned individuals, one more piece of unsolicited advise: go to their places, be with them, live with them as an equal even if only shortly and occasionally. Teach and convince them by actually doing it by yourself. Mere talking and visuals will not do it, hard experience has taught them “to see is to believe”. At least it’s how I am starting to do it now.
You are always there in the farm anyway so what could be better way to make the day productive? Supply of planting materials? Many others did it so there are always ways. You can also start with a few mother plants to serve as seed bank or from where vegetative planting materials can be obtained. It will obviously cause delay, but the delay will not matter anymore once the harvesting starts.
The trees will hamper the planting of corn? But it’s now common in many farms to intercrop coconut and fruit trees with corn particularly during the juvenile growth stage of the permanent crops! The land is cogonal with steep slope? My late grandfather himself fully planted 12 hectares of land with similar terrain in a remote place in Sarangani Province. He did it by his bare hands and so did many others!
But perhaps the most understandable and acceptable reason I ever heard from such farmers is that they are unaware of any establishment or person who buys the harvest all year-round. And so when you try to convince them to plant fruit trees, there’s always that follow-up question, “Where will we sell our produce?” And also, “What is the buying price?” And, further, “Same questions next year, 5 years from now, and many more years from now.”
In contrast, there is no need to convince them to plant coconut. A farm plan which consists of plant coconut first and plant fruit trees next would therefore be easy to sell. They can still continue to plant corn. The clearing, soil preparation, and weeding operations attached to corn growing will allow the planting of coconut and favor subsequent growth. Even after the fruit trees have been planted but before full growth, corn can still be planted on the interrow strips. They can plant other annual crops including vegetables and legumes instead of corn, but this is one more separate matter that needs thorough assessment and requires another convincing.
Assume a farm with an area of 5 hectares (50,000 sq m), coconut as main crop, and planting rate is one plant per day at 10 m x 10 m plant-to-plant spacing (horizontal distance) . The planting distance for coconut can be shorter, but 10 x 10 or longer will leave a wide strip between adjacent coconut rows that offers wide choice of perennial intercrops and still allow the growing of corn.
There are 365 days in one year and therefore the same number of coconut seedlings will be planted in one year. At a spacing of 10 m x 10 m, the plant population for 5 hectares will be 500, meaning that it will likewise take 500 days to complete planting if survival is 100 percent. This is equivalent to only 1 year and 135 days or about 1 year and 4 1/2 months.
It should not be the end. You can go further. Having started that one plant per day routine, it will likely become a habit. You can plant fruit trees as intercrop.
Assume that you now start planting fruit trees at the center of four coconut trees. The planting of fruit trees here will transform the planting pattern from square into quincunx with fruit trees as filler crop. For a 1-hectare farm having dimensions of 100 m x 100 m, there will be 81 filler hills. Just for convenience in this illustration, let us multiply this by 5 to obtain the estimated number of filler crops in 5 hectares. Therefore, for our 5-hectare farm, 405 trees will occupy the center of each 10m x 10m square. At the same rate of one plant per day, it will only take 405 days to plant the filler fruits. This is equivalent to 1 year and 40 days or 1 year, 1 month and 10 days.
Planting of the coconut maincrop and the filler fruits, therefore, can be completed in 905 days or about 2 years and 6 months. One plant per day will be too easy and still will give plenty of time for any farmer to attend to other matters and farm concerns including corn growing. But is this plan plausible?
Likely it cannot be done if the rate of planting is strictly restricted to 1 plant per day. It should be expected that there will be mortality. Planted fruit trees or any other crops also need care primarily weeding. The farmer has to attend to emergencies and the body is not entirely immune to all forms of ailment. For one who needs an alibi, many more smarter justifications can be invented.
However, one who is totally decided can still make it in 2 years and 6 months or even lesser. Instead of one, he can make it two, or five, or 10, or even more plants in one day during the rainy season. He only needs to exercise initiative in finding the planting materials.
As to fruit trees that will adapt to the prevailing soil and climatic conditions, there is a wide choice. Notables are durian, jackfruit, avocado, and soursop (guyabano) which are now considered high value crops. Additionally, these fruit trees can be propagated by seeds and have relatively short maturity. Other perennial crops such as banana (including saba or cardaba), coffee, cacao, calamansi, and guava may still be interplanted between coconuts or between filler fruit trees.
No, you don't really have to do it all at once. You can do it one at a time, it's a matter of choice. Make it fast, or make it slow. Plant coconut, then plant fruit trees. But do not forget those "bahay kubo kahit munti..." vegetables, herbs and spices for the table... and potentially also for precious cash.
Read more: Starting a Farm