Vertical Farming in Nueva Ecija
The development of new technology for food production is essential to sustain man’s needs for survival. Also, the use of farmlands for food production and industrial purposes goes beyond the carrying capacity of the environment. The study determined the applicability of Vertical Farming using Hydroponic Technology to onion production in Nueva Ecija, Philippines.
The study concluded that the VFH technology is acceptable to most onion farmers except for the aspect of the cost of initial investment which requires government subsidy for the ordinary onion grower to avail of this new and sustainable technology in onion production.
Food Production and Land Use in the Philippines
The demand for food production in the Philippines puts stress on land use and natural resources. The forestland alone is extremely suffering from degradation. And the cause of this destruction is attributed to food production. To maintain sustainable food production, the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Science and Technology promotes the use of urban agriculture and vertical farming.
The “Urban Agriculture Act of 2011”, and House Bill No. 720 known as the “Urban Agriculture Act of 2013″, aim to ensure food security and rejuvenate the ecosystem functions. The law further mandates that abandoned government lots shall be considered for growing crops to sustain the demand for food production using vertical farming and urban gardening.
The Onion Production in Nueva Ecija
The Philippines is an agricultural country with a land area of 30 million hectares. 47 percent of which is agricultural land. The province of Nueva Ecija is the leading producer of onion accounting for 99 percent of the region’s onion production. Among the municipalities in Nueva Ecija, Bongabon is known as the onion capital of the Philippines because of the volume it produced.
At present, onion production in Nueva Ecija is threatened by importation, smuggling, and the emergence of pests bringing havoc to the potential earnings of onion farmers. There are three reasons cited for the decrease in onion production in Nueva Ecija:
- The prolonged rainy season;
- Farmers losing their market share because of the coming in of imported onion;
- Emergence of insects causing the drop in harvest.
The declining production of the industry demands that a new model and a new system of farming needs to be reconsidered. Therefore, the present study aims at using the technology of vertical farming and hydroponics as a viable system of producing onion.
Vertical Farming Using Hydroponic System
Vertical farming (VF) or high-rise farming is a proposed indoor, urban farming technology involving large-scale agricultural production in multi-story buildings. While hydroponics and aeroponics methods are tools to produce crops in soil-less nutrient solutions.
Vertical Farming has the following advantages compared to traditional farming practices:
- Year-round crop production as it requires no soil rejuvenation and soil mineral recovery ordinarily observed in land-based farming.
- Significantly reduces farm inputs and the use of fossil fuels causing damage to the environment. Land-based agriculture requires land plowing using farm implements burning gasoline and other petroleum products.
- The technology can be put up anywhere;
- It minimizes weather and crop failures as it is under a controlled environment the farmer himself sets;
- It helps in restoring the farmland to the ecosystem.
On the other hand, Hydroponics is one of the many methods of soilless agriculture through which plants are grown in mineral nutrient water. The mineral nutrient can be introduced into a plant’s water supply which is then readily absorbed by the plant’s root.
The hydroponic technology allows small farmers to grow food even in dry spells. The prolonged dry season, caused by El Nino phenomenon, will not affect onion production.
According to one expert,
“If the time comes when there’s severe water shortage, at least we have a system where we can plant and grow crops with little water,”
Acceptability of the VHF System to Onion Farmers
The use of vertical farming is acceptable to the onion growers considering their past experiences using the traditional method. The acceptability is backed by the belief that:
- Change in weather condition or climate change,
- Traditional farming is prone to pest attacks,
- High cost of farm labor,
- Pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers.
Majority of the interviewees were excited to adopt the VFH system for onion production. However, the amount of initial capitalization discouraged them to embark on the process. They all believe that the government must provide the subsidy to onion farmers to establish and employ the VHF system.
The Contribution of the VHF System to Onion Production in Nueva Ecija
The vertical grower design employing hydroponics may be utilized in onion farming in Nueva Ecija for the following reasons:
- Increased productivity of onions,
- Year-round crop production,
- Possibility that can be put up or built anywhere,
- No weather-related crop failures,
- Onions being free from pesticides and herbicides,
- Lessening excessive use of fertilizers thus no threat to human and animal health,
- Requiring less space, so the spare land can be used for fruit-bearing trees, which gives additional income to the farmers and helps restore the ecosystem.
In the Philippines, it may seem extraordinary to consider the idea of urban-based agriculture when viable and productive land is available. But with the increase in population, space will eventually be a problem. The arable land is becoming limited, and alternative agricultural practices are necessary.
Designing and constructing the vertical farming facility is only part of the challenges toward sustainable and environment-friendly farming. The readiness and cognition on how to operate the facilities would be a major challenge. More than this, are the challenges of financial and technological viability that ordinary farmers cannot easily adjust to. To make vertical farming a reality, whether small-scale hydroponic farms or flourishing skyscrapers, there is a need for the support of the governments and pioneering organizations’ willing to support the farmers and provide them training for technology adoption and financial assistance for the construction of the vertical farms.
Vertical Farming in Nueva Ecija