FEED Business Worldwide - December, 2011
 
Philippine corn: Achievements, challenges and bold government projections
 
by Gemma C. DELMO in Manila
 
 
Situated within the western Pacific's typhoon belt of, the Philippines is at the receiving end of more than a dozen such storms every year. Some invariably strike corn growing areas, thereby upsetting the best laid plans of feed and livestock farmers. After forecasting an exportable surplus of corn, storms have upset this 2011 forecast and made imports necessary.
 
In late September and early October, two strong cyclones--Pedring (international name Nesat) and Quiel (Nalgae) hit the country, devastating Manila and adjoining Northern Luzon island, which is one of the country's major agricultural areas. By early November, some provinces were still submerged under the resulting flood waters.
 
The twin typhoons' wrath resulted to enormous casualties, with agriculture damage amounting to at least PHP11.79 billion (US$276.83 million), based on the figures released by the Department of Agriculture Action Centre (DACAC) in mid October.
 
Among harvests suffering the greatest losses was feed corn, the country's most second important crop. According to DACAC, nearly thirty five thousand hectares of corn were damaged, resulting in losses of approximately PHP522.58 million (US$12.25 million)--the second most damaged farm subsector next to rice where losses were valued at PHP11.04 billion (US$259.20 million). The good news however is that 32,656 hectares still have a good chance of recovery.
 
 
Impressive first half harvest and crop yields
 
This was most unfortunate and disappointing: Before the typhoons hit, the Philippines was enjoying record-high corn crop yields and harvests in the in the first half of 2011. At 3.309 million tonnes, corn production was up 37% from the first half of 2010, beating the previous historical record of 3.293 million tonnes registered in the first semester of 2008.
 
Good weather in the first half of 2011, expanded planted acreage due to high corn prices,  availability of several new, more productive corn varieties were the reasons for the early year's production boost, says the Department of Agriculture.
 
According to the department of agriculture, corn area harvested increased by 14.17% to 1.1 million hectares from the 967,000 hectares in 2010. Average yield per hectare improved to 3.01 tonnes per hectare, up 20% from the 2.50 tonnes/hectare in the first half of 2010.
 
Regions that contributed to the astonishing first half 2011 numbers included Cagayan Valley, where the harvest rose by 27%. The combined provincial areas of South Cotabato, Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani and General Santos City saw their first half corn crop increase a heady 14%). Northern Mindanao, the Muslim Mindanao autonomous region and Illocos also put in strong performances, with their corn harvest up by 12%, 12% and 11% respectively.
 
According to the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics (BAS), this heady corn production growth drove Philippine agriculture's first half of 2011 growth to 5.48%. By the end of 2011, the  government had projected corn production to reach 7.105 million tonnes, an impressive 11.4% increase from 2010's 6.377 million tonnes. 
 
Pedring and Quiel however prompted BAS to slash its third quarter projection by 2.8% to 2.088 million tonnes from the 2.148 million tonnes forecast in July. BAS Assistant Director Maura S. Lizarondo also blamed Falcon (international name Meari), Juaning (Nock-ten) and Mina (Mitag)--the typhoons that hit the country this year--for the estimation cut. In all, a harvest of 7.045 million tonnes is expected and this is still a healthy 10.5% above last year's domestic production.
 
Be that as it may, the DA still raised its forecast for next year until 2016 in the wake of the crop's good output in the first half and after consultation with corn producers. Edilberto M. de Luna, DA's assistant secretary for field operations and National Corn Program coordinator tells that the storm's damage were still considered "minimal", citing the 37% production increase in H1 of 2011 is already "remarkable". 
 
 
Higher yield and harvest projections
 
What was most hopeful is that new GM corn varieties and growing techniques have proven themselves capable of creating sustained increases in crop size growth. As a result, the department of agriculture raised its annual corn harvest estimates for the next five years by roughly 5% over previous projections. Needless to say, such a large increase in the long-term harvest projections was certainly controversial
 
It now officially expects a corn harvest of 7.846 million tonnes in 2012 (formerly estimated at 7.599 million tonnes), 8.413 million tonnes in 2013 (formerly 7.951 million tonnes), 8.745 million tonnes in 2014 (formerly 8.318 million tonnes), 9.145 million tonnes in 2014(formerly 8.70 million tonnes) and 9.526 million tonnes in 2016 (formerly 9.097 million tonnes).
 
 
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III (3rd from right) and agriculture secretary Proceso Alcala (2nd from the right) meeting with corn growers. Self-sufficiency in feed corn is considered a top national priority.
 
de Luna also stated that corn yields per hectare will have to increase if the higher projections are to be achieved. Hence, these new harvest goals depend on new yield estimates approximately 5% higher than before. Specifically: 2.89 tonnes/hectare (from an original target of 2.8 tonnes/hectare) in 2012, 3.08 tonnes/hectare (formerly 2.91 tonnes/hectare) in 2013, 3.17 tonnes/hectare (formerly 3.02 tonnes/hectare) in 2014, 3.29 tonnes/hectare (formerly 3.13 tonnes/hectare) in 2015 and 3.41 tonnes/hectare (formerly 3.25 tonnes/hectare) in 2016.
 
Amid these seemingly optimistic outlook, Roger Navarro of the corn farmers' group Philippine Maize Federation (PhilMaize) remained cautious. He says the targets were quite "ambitious" and that the government should instead "prime up the interest of the farmers to plant more corn" particularly during the calamity's aftermath.  He added that the biggest challenge now facing corn growers is the postharvest losses, which presently stand at 10% to 15%. For the government to achieve their production goals the PhilMaize chief stressed the need of setting up drying and storage facilities to ensure the supply of quality feed grain for farms.
 
It also assumes that this year's pre-typhoon productivity growth rates can be sustained for at least another five years. This assumption is reasonable, but by no means guaranteed. On one hand, GM corn varieties have a demonstrated capacity to raise crop yields. On the other hand, despite the introduction of GM corn, yields around the world have flattened out over the last two decades. Moreover, even such optimistic productivity increases will be challenged by the inevitability of damaging typhoons in years to come.
 
 
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