Laya Valley, a fertile land overlooking the Cordillera mountain ranges, is fast becoming the hybrid rice seed capital of the Philippines, as farmers in this area embraced new rice varieties more enthusiastically than farmers elsewhere in the country.
Located more than 500 kilometers north of Manila, Laya Valley, which is fed with waters from Chico River, has over 800 hectares allocated for hybrid rice seed (F1) production, rivaled only by Roxas City in Isabela province. It also cultivates 5,700 hectares for the actual planting of hybrid rice (F2).
"We used to be the rice granary of Luzon in the 1960s. We want to bring back the glory days of Kalinga," said Vice Governor Joseph T. Delson in an interview with visiting agriculture journalists on Monday.
Kalinga, one of the six provinces in the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) with eight municipalities including the capital town of Tabuk, began planting hybrid rice varieties with only a few hectares in 2001. Two years later, the province saw its total area planted to hybrid rice expand to 5,700 hectares.
The province, which became infamous for tales of headhunting in the past, was separated from Apayao in 1992 by virtue of Republic Act 7878. Producing more rice than it could consume, the province exports the commodity to other CAR provinces such as Abra, Apayao, Benguet, Ifugao and Mountain province.
Beyond producing hybrid rice for the market, the province seeks to become the leading supplier of hybrid rice seeds (F1), which command a hefty price of P2,400 for every 20-kilo bag. Rice farmers would later plant a bag of F1 seeds per hectare to produce commercial rice (F2) for consumption.
"We are increasing hybrid rice harvests everyday," said Cipriano G. Santiago, Department of Agriculture's (DA) rice program coordinator in the CAR. "We hope to plant 90 to 95 percent of the province's total rice farm area of 16,000 hectares with hybrid rice seeds over the next five years."
This early, Santiago noted that around 97 percent of the rice hectarage in sitios Madupdop and San Pablo in Barangay Lacnog in Tabuk are already cultivated for hybrid rice seed production. Barangay Lacnog is otherwise known as Barangay Hybrid.
Santiago said the province seeks to expand its hybrid rice area to 7,600 hectares in the wet cropping season (June to November) and to 13,000 hectares in the next dry cropping season (December to May).
Provincial agriculturist Felix G. Dalacan said that this early, hybrid rice seeds produced in Kalinga reach as far as Mindanao and Visayas.
Dacalan said this would further increase with the expected completion of a P5-million cold storage for hybrid rice seeds this year. "Hopefully, this can be completed after the election," he said.
According to Jose R. Casibang, the provincial rice program coordinator, the hybrid rice seed production in the province significantly improved farmers' income from only P20,000 a hectare for every cropping season to more than P100,000 a hectare.
Casibang estimated that the 282 hybrid rice seed growers in sitio Madupdop alone would be harvesting around 45,000, 50-kilo cavans of hybrid seeds worth around P108 million from a total area of 900 hectares this dry cropping season.
The hybrid rice seed (F1) is the product of two genetically different lines and obtains the positive qualities of its parents through a process called heterosis.
The Kalinga Hybrid Rice Seed Growers Multi-purpose Cooperative is composed of trained seed growers who plant the A line ("Mrs." or the female plant) alternately with the R Line ("Mr." or the male parent). These parent lines are sourced from the Philippine Rice Research Institute (Philrice).
The seed growers plant the two parent lines by rows, normally at a ratio of 2:10, the female lines getting the bigger number. The A Lines are usually taller than the R Lines, because they are planted weeks earlier. The timing of the planting must be precise to produce perfect seeds.
The A plant bears the hybrid seed (F1) when crossed with the R Line, through artificial pollination. The Philrice buys back these F1 seeds and distributes them to rice farmers all over the country under the government's hybrid rice program. When planted and harvested, the products of the F1 seeds are called F2 grains or the commercial rice that are sold at the market.
Kalinga seed growers produce two hybrid rice seeds, namely: PSB Rc72H (Mestizo 1) and NSIC Rc116H (Mestizo 3).
Aside from the Mestizo lines, other hybrid varieties being endorsed by the government are SL-8H or Doña Maria of SL Agritech Corp., Bigante of Bayer Crop Science, Magilas 500 of Monsanto Philippines and Rizalina 28 of HyRice.