Strawberries bring thriving business venture to Bicol farmer

February 21, 2015 12:31 am 

By John Mark Escandor

OCAMPO, Camarines Sur, Feb. 20 (PNA) — Leo Libreja, 38, became known for making strawberries thrive and bear fruits in the lowlands under the tropical heat of the sun.

This activity has brought him thriving agribusiness venture in this third-class town, 27 kilometers southeast of Naga City.

Libreja uses organic technology in farming the lowland, tropical strawberry variety he developed from the cuttings he obtained in Hawaii and the Bagiuo variety to produce crossbreed with more runners (planting materials) that bear bigger fruits.

Developing the crossbreed took a long process of acclimatizing the strawberry to the tropical heat.

From there, he executed cross pollination of the Hawaiian and Bagiuo varieties to develop the strawberry variety he sells now.

Libreja, an agribusiness graduate of Camarines Sur State Agricultural College (now Central Bicol State University for Agriculture) and a scholar of the Department of Agriculture (DA) at the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resource of the University of Hawaii in Minoa from 2003-2005, harnesses his stock knowledge in scientific farming to build his thriving business of producing the lowland- tropical strawberry.

He claimed that the tropical heat allowed the strawberries to fully undergo photosynthesis, which makes the plants bear sweeter and more aromatic strawberries.

Libreja, who ambitioned to be a scientific farmer, experiments and develops farm models of sustainable farming like raising ornamental and food plants and aquaculture in a small area.

After his strawberry sales grew tremendously, he established his strawberry farm in a two-hectare property at the interior part of Pinit, Ocampo, Camarines Sur.

He expanded his production area to meet the demand of ready-to-bear-fruit strawberry plants that is steadily growing with a popular mall now interested in selling his product.

Libreja’s strawberries are ready to bear fruit within 45-60 days, and he is in the process of producing ready-to-bear-fruit plants all year round to make supply of strawberries available here any month of the year.

With two more hectares for expansion, Libreja is toying with the idea of turning his farm into agri-tourism site demonstrating the “Bahay Kubo” concept where strawberries grow suspended above the water nourished by wastes of fish being raised in the pond.

From the small earnings of selling strawberry plant before the publication of his story, Libreja said he now earns an average of Php100,000 a month while demand from big buyers starts coming.

But Libreja said he can only produce a minimum of 300 strawberry plants in a month to keep up with orders, and he has to turn down for the meantime orders in hundreds, which is still beyond his capacity to produce.

Curious strangers came to Libreja’s farm to see for themselves the unique strawberry variety that thrives in the lowlands and under the tropical heat of the sun that sears to more than 30˚C during summer.

Libreja, a farmer inside out, never tires himself experimenting on farming technology that he sees could improve and innovate the way plants are cultivated.

Back in the early 2000s, he demonstrated how a “Bahay Kubo” concept of sustainable agriculture can be practiced when he developed their small area in their farm complete with a pond and different kinds of vegetables cultivated around the hut.

The “Bahay Kubo” demonstration earned for him the most outstanding young farmer of Bicol by the DA in 2003 and an 18-month training grant in Hawaii where he learned different skills and knowledge in propagating plants.

His 18-month training in Hawaii made him learn hydrophonics farming, drip irrigation and other techniques in propagating plants scientifically and innovatively.

Libreja said he has innovated on the hydrophonics farming technique he calls “aquaphonics” that uses organic means to grow plants and integrates fish culture to provide nutrients to the plants, and food on the table at the same time.

He said hydrophonics farming uses non-organic based solution to grow plants by means of water.

In their small front yard here, he is developing the prototype of aquaphonics for strawberry and lettuce plants that are grown suspended above water and fed by nutrients of fish wastes.

Using fish tanks made of halved oil drums, he planted without soil strawberry and lettuce in the holes in the pipes placed above the fish tanks.

He uses water drawn from the bottom of the fish tanks where the fish wastes had settled which is conveyed through a hose that feeds the pipe with organic solution to the soilless plants planted just above the water of the fish tank.

Libreja said the success of his experiment will determine the design of his agri-tourism site where clients could pick strawberries suspended above water in the pond, while boating.

He also dreams of integrating processing of his strawberries like strawberry jam or candies for the tourists who will visit his farm.

He revealed that he is starting to discover how to make strawberries bear fruits irregular in shapes like heart-shaped, square, or multiple edges from the regular cone-shaped strawberry.

In the month of February, he was happily surprised at the result of his timed application of organic foliar during the period the strawberry plants were bearing fruits.

The strawberry plants bore bigger fruits with shapes approximating the shape of the heart.

Libreja does not keep his trade secret and instead teach the technology of growing organic, tropical, lowland strawberries to his clients. (PNA)



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