Due to price slump corn farmers discuss problems, solutions
By Emily B. Bordado PILI,Camarines Sur --- The slump in farm-gate price of yellow corn last year pushed the industry player to innovate and develop strategies to be competitive in the long run. Because of free trade, cheap imported alternates are made available threatening the local industry where much is yet to be achieved in terms of minimizing post-harvest losses particularly during rainy season) and keeping up with the high market demand for quality grains in large volumes. “Production is not a problem but the quality of corn produced commonly during wet season cropping does not meet the accepted standards.” This was the consensus of most of the participants to the consultative meeting with corn industry players and stakeholders called by the Department of Agriculture regional office here over the weekend. Re Orcine, president of the Kabikolan Feed Millers Association explained that there was an oversupply of corn in the region last year but most of these corn grains where not Class A and deteriorated easily due to continuous rain and lack of postharvest equipment in the region. This prompted the local feed millers, he said, to buy imported wheat which gave them confidence that the animal feeds they were producing will also be of good quality and safe. He noted that most corn farmers do not dry their corn in cobs but remove the grains first from the cobs before drying them. This observation was shared by former mayor John Vasquez Dycoco of Banco Santiago de Libon which has a P20M credit exposure for corn farmers in the region. He said that indeed most of the corn harvested by the farmers easily deteriorated and were very vulnerable to molds. He revealed that as a result of the slump in corn price last year, many of their farmer creditors were not able to pay their loans resulting to past due accounts worth as much as P4M. For his part Lorenzo Alvina, DA –Bicol regional corn program coordinator, acknowledged that the current available post-harvest facilities in the region are not enough and most of these are not large scale dryers. He said that what is needed in the corn cluster areas are not the village type dryers but those which can process bigger volumes like the corn processing complex in the town of Tigaon, Camarines Sur. It was also proposed that the possible establishment of bigger dryers through Public-Private Partnership (PPP) with investments from feed millers and lending institutions, will be the key interventions to be proposed in the 2019 DA budget. Meanwhile. Nora Follosco, assistant provincial director of the National Food Authority in Camarines Sur explained that NFA has no specific procurement fund for corn but they have a directive that if the price [of corn] goes beyond P12.30 per kilo they have to request for budget allocation and authority from their main office. Last year, NFA Camarines Sur allocated P6.5M budget to buy at least 60,000 bags of corn at P12.30 support price plus 20 centavos incentive for dried corn. However, Follosco clarifies that there was a new directive requiring them to buy only those corn grains classified as Class A. The parameters for Class A grains are as follows: 14% Moisture Content; 2 days solar dried or 24 hours in mechanical dryer; 97%grains purity; 5% breakage of kernel, and; only 3% presence of foreign matters. Both Municipal Agriculturists Gil Gabriel Bordado and Jerry Mercado of Calabanga and Goa towns in Camarines Sur, respectively, aired the need to upgrade and increase the current number of drying facilities in their respective areas. They said that flatbed dryers are not ideal for drying corn grains. They also appealed to the big players in the industry not to import corn during the peak season. They expressed their support to a Private Public Partnership to establish the needed state- of- the-art infrastructures and facilities for the corn industry just like in Mindanao and Isabela and not just engage the cooperatives or small rural-based associations. Adelina Losa, DA Chief of the Agribusiness and Marketing Division, reiterated that quality is the name of the game. Corn farmers to be competitive must not only produce enough volume but must ensure that they meet the prescribed standards. She deplored the farmers’ continuous practice of drying the shelled corn grains instead of drying them in cobs which is the good practice being recommended by the DA in the trainings and fora it has been conducting for corn farmers. A mobile application interface for both market and corn producers is also eyed as a possible tool which can further develop the market linkage in partnership with the agribusiness and marketing division. DA OIC-Regional Technical Director for Operations and Extension, Rodel Tornilla said that unlike rice, corn has no tariff protection. He thus recommended to the body to adopt the scheme for the Rice Processing Center where cooperatives are provided with a grain complex equipped with dryers, millers and other equipment plus capitalization for the procurement of palay from members. Other recommendations that were brought forth by the corn farmers were: Assess the demand for corn in the region by making an inventory of population of livestock and poultry; determine requirement of feed millers; and identify the other corn users. The consultation meeting was called by DA to forestall possible recurrence of slump in the price of corn which resulted to big loss to the corn farmers in Bicol last year. A decline in the number of farmers who planted corn this year was noted.