Head cabbage production is very challenging on the island of Rota. Although they can be grown on the island, it is much cheaper to import them than to produce them locally. The high cost of pesticides, fertilizer and labor make growing head cabbage uneconomical. This project focused on finding alternative ways to produce the crop effectively without the use of high cost resources. It explored the use of modern technology and other farm practices that help produce chemical-free vegetables and cut production costs. This project also aimed at producing other healthy protein food sources.
The agricultural industry on Rota under the Trust Territory government was very productive. The farmers produced a variety of vegetables, including head cabbage and supplied the island of Guam, including the U.S. military bases there.
In 1978, the island of Rota became a Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas under the United States. Many government jobs were created, and the people slowly moved away from farming. USDA Food Assistance programs also came and many citizens became eligible. Imported foods became a way of life for the people.
Today, the economy of the Northern Marianas is not good. The people are returning to the land for their livelihood. But many older farmers have passed, and the younger generation does not have the will to do serious farming activity. Besides, prices of farm supplies have increased tremendously, making farming unthinkable, not to mention the pests and expensive labor challenges farmers face today.
This project aimed at producing head cabbages inexpensively, which is one of the highly imported produce to the island.
The objective of the project is to utilize different proven environmentally friendly agricultural practices to raise head cabbages inexpensively. After the success of the project, it will help decrease the importation of head cabbage and encourage the farmers to raise the crop locally.
There were several components to the project which were performed at my private farm. For the nutrient requirements of the crop, the chicken tractor was used to provide the manure as well as the affluent from the fish farm. Water from the fish farm was also used to irrigate the crop using the drip hose. For pest control, two practices were considered; the insect net cover and the Neem leaves extract. For the weed maintenance, there were three considerations, and they are the black plastic mulch, grass clippings and hand-weeding.
Several of these practices were integrated to see which proved more efficient and effective in producing head cabbages.
Method A. Chicken tractor, affluent water with drip hose, grass clippings mulch and neem extract.
Method B. Chicken tractor, affluent water with drip hose, plastic mulch and neem extract.
Method C. Chicken tractor, affluent water with drip hose, zero mulch and neem extract.
Method D. Chicken tractor, affluent water with drip hose, grass clippings mulch and insect nettings.
Method E. Chicken tractor, affluent water with drip hose, plastic mulch and insect netting.
Method F. Chicken tractor, affluent water with drip hose, zero mulch and insect netting.
The most cost-efficient and effective of the six integrated set ups was Method E, followed by Method B and Method A.
Method E required less labor after the project was set up. The farmer only goes to the field every other day, or as required, to open the drip system for moisture requirement for the crop. The farmer does not need to weed or spray pesticide, which cut labor cost tremendously.
Method B required opening the drip system as needed and apply neem extract spraying three times a week.
Method A required neem extract spraying. Weeding is needed since grass grows through the grass mulch. Slug monitoring also is required since the grass clippings are a good hiding place for them and also other insects.
Considering the cost of imported head cabbage, which is $1.21 /lb., verses the cost of producing them locally using the integrated method, which is only $.71 /lb., our farmers will definitely consider producing head cabbages locally.
Besides, the crop is chemical-free, and the method used is environmentally sensible. The farmer and the community are supplied with healthy foods using this integrated method of production. The production of other healthy protein (which are fresh eggs, chicken and fish)come from this model. With these healthy food sources, the community will be healthier.
The community will become less dependant on outside labor due to the fact that this model is designed to lessen labor need and is easy to do. In fact, the local government has been encouraging the people to consider this model and employ it in their backyard gardens, especially for those working full-time in private companies and the government. The municipal government has set up a demonstration project using the chicken tractor concept and the insect netting to drive more enthusiasm within the community and aired the technique on cable TV Channel 5. Today, backyard gardening has exploded among the villagers. Almost every household has a backyard garden, and the majority are using different varieties of mulching, the neem extract and insect net cover techniques. The NMC-CREES has provided demonstrations on small-scale fish farms and workshops on aquaponic to the islands population.
The integrated system model can also be applied to other crops such as tomatoes, eggplant, okra and many more. The only draw back with the model that I have is that some parts of the island are not privileged with water supply, and therefore fish farming is not feasible. Yet good innovative projects such as rain catchments can be erected to provide a good water source and other organic fertilizers can be used as an alternative to fish affluent.
With the integrated farm system model, I developed other farm products to sell, and my farm income has increased with the selling of fish and eggs. In my household, I do not buy eggs and fish anymore for my food. I realized that more people are looking for fresh fish, and this will give me the opportunity to increase my fish production in the future. With the increase in my fish production, I will have more affluent for other crops such as my bananas and noni trees. I plan to venture into other crops such as lettuce using this model.
Educational & Outreach Activities
With the help of NMC-CREES, a flyer for the “Integrated Farm System” workshop was posted on every public and private place frequented by people.
On July 14, 2011, my technical advisor conducted two workshops (power point presentation). The first session was for the community, and the second for the summer school students. There were 15 attendees aat the first session and 25 at the second. Field trips were provided after each session to the demonstration project at the Northern Marianas College CREES at Rota. Field trips to the actual farm was not performed due to poor road conditions, and liability was the reason that a demonstration at the NMC-CREES campus was set-up instead. A recent rain storm had damaged the road leading to my farm.
I have provided brochures to the participants and the NMC-CREES of the Integrated Farming System Model. I provided some brochures to NMC-CREES as handouts for farmers.
I left the Integrated System Model demonstration at the NMC- CREES field for three months so that others may see the system at their own convenience.
I have invited the Department of Lands and Natural Resources extension agents to my farm to get an up-close view of the system so that they may pass the knowledge on whenever they visit other farmers.
I invited Channel 5 TV to air the system, but they failed to cover the demonstration due to lack of personnel.
Today, my brother and I are planning to venture together in farming using the integrated model system. Our lands are adjacent, and the need for more farm area is required to increase production in the future as needed. We already have available a building for a small market to sell our produce. With the absence of a slaughter facility on island, USDA regulation forbids me from selling our aged chickens except live.
With my own market, we can be able to sell our local chickens, which is important in our operation in order to be sustainable. Our family are presently saving on some food purchases. We always have fish and eggs available when we need them.
This project has contributed tremendously to my knowledge and understanding on ways to produce agricultural crops without the use of harmful chemicals. I can better adopt other practices on my farm knowing that integration of other farm practices really does work.
The farm visits from the Department of Lands & Natural Resources extension personnel will help them better understand some alternative solutions to chemical-free crop production. The NMC-CREES staffs also will share this idea with other farmers whenever they make farm visits. Several young audiences that I had during the power point presentation at NMC-CREES campus and the field tour will make the younger generation see other safe ways to produce agricultural crops in this small community. The NMC-CREES aquaculture division is putting up a small fish pond at the Rota High School. My integrated farm model is perfect for the school to consider in the future to further the students’ understanding of a safer alternative to produce chemical-free vegetables.
At the next Rota Agricultural Fair, I plan to put up an Integrated Farming System demonstration project as my contribution to the farming community. This will enhance the knowledge of the other farmers who have not seen my project and encourage those who may want to setup a backyard operation using a simple integrated system gardening.
Although the initial cost of Method E is a little costly due to the use of plastic mulch and the insect net cover, I recommend this method to Rota farmers. Labor cost is reduced tremendously, and the materials, if taken really good care of, can be reused several times; in which case the cost can be spread out over the life of the materials.
I recommend that more integrated system approaches be explored so that disadvantaged communities such as Rota can achieve greater self sufficiency.
For example, a hog farm may complement a vegetable production. The hogs provide additional protein, labor and manure for the crops.
I recommend that college researchers set up demonstrations for other farmers to learn by seeing. Many workshops were conducted but less of the actual applications. I have heard comments from the participants during the field tour that if only workshops plus actual field tours were conducted like what I presented, they will easily connect their understanding much better.
I recommend to Western SARE to change their apportionment of the funds provided to the grant recipients to 80/20 approach. What I mean is that 80% be provided to the grantee so that he can better finish his project with 30% more of the grant money than only the 50% upfront. From a place like where I come from, supplies and materials are hard to procure and take time because we have to go off the island for them. With the lack of funds, it makes it harder for us to achieve our goals. Therefore, in the future if Western SARE can give the recipient 80% of the fund upfront and the 20% after the project is completed, I believe that the grantee can accomplish his objectives much easier and faster. This exception may be granted to places like the islands in the Pacific regions of Micronesia. The cost of living allowance here is very high, and many times we do not have the adequate funds from our pockets to finish our project, which contributes to the slow pace of the second half or the entire project. The no cost extension Western SARE usually approves is helpful only to buy time to collect more personal funds just to fulfill the rest of the project objectives. Please visit this issue on your next round of discussion for consideration.