THE country’s palay production this year is off to a good start as first quarter harvest grew by 8.57 percent to 4.626 million metric tons (MMT), the highest volume produced on record for January-to-March period.
The production volume surpassed the previous first quarter palay harvest record of 4.622 MMT in 2018, despite a 3.52-percent contraction in area harvested compared to three years ago.
Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) data analyzed by the BusinessMirror showed that total palay harvest area in the first quarter reached 1.148 million hectares, which was 42,000 hectares smaller than the 1.19 million hectares recorded in 2018.
However, palay harvest area during the three-month period was 4.55 percent bigger than the 1.098 million hectares recorded in the first quarter of last year, based on PSA data.
PSA data showed that three-fourths of the first quarter harvest came from irrigated palay production, which reached 3.469 MMT, while the remaining volume of 1.157 MMT was rainfed palay output.
Irrigated palay production during the reference period was 6.18 percent higher than the 3.267 MMT recorded last year while rainfed palay output rose by 16.51 percent from 993,716.19 MT, PSA data showed.
PSA data also showed irrigated palay production in the first quarter was 3.12 percent lower while rainfed palay output was 11.14 percent higher compared to 2018 figures.
On an annual basis, palay production in all regions of the country expanded, led by Western Visayas that recorded the highest output for the quarter at 196,570 MT, which was 4.25 percent of the total volume, PSA data showed.
Economist Pablito M. Villegas attributed the increase in output despite contraction in hectarage to the so-called productivity effect or increase in yield caused by the series of interventions provided by the Department of Agriculture (DA) to rice farmers.
“It shows that the interventions of the government worked: the free fertilizer, distribution of hybrid seeds, inbred seeds, the programs under Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund, and the P5,000 subsidy to farmers,” Villegas told the BusinessMirror.
“The government is on the right track in its rice programs. This probably is the result of the combined effects of all those interventions especially for the rainfed farmers as the interventions allowed them to produce more,” Villegas said.
Villegas added that the La Niña phenomenon last year also contributed to the higher first quarter harvest, allowing farmers in rainfed areas to plant more.
Monetary Board member V. Bruce J. Tolentino earlier told the BusinessMirror that the agriculture sector’s performance in the first quarter is “better than before and more resilient despite the pandemic” given the improvements seen in the rice sector.
“Rice production is up. Rice consumer prices are lower and more stable. Farm prices are stable. And farmers are receiving the assistance provided by RCEF [Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund], resulting in improved productivity. That’s the better part,” Tolentino said.
“These improvements have resulted in a more resilient agriculture sector,” he added.
Federation of Free Farmers National Manager Raul Q. Montemayor was skeptical, though. He noted that the first-quarter increase in palay harvest was a marginal improvement compared to 2018 when the rice sector did not have an abundance of interventions available today, such as RCEF.
Still, Montemayor recognized that the increased yield could be the reason behind the higher output.
“It seems we just recovered to our usual production levels. It is not really impressive. We are just back to first base, especially if you consider the increase in population in relation to rice production increase,” he told the BusinessMirror.
“Compared to 2018, the DA has a lot of budgets for the rice sector today but the benefits from it did not reflect much on the results,” he added.
For this year, the Department of Agriculture (DA) aims to produce a new record-high volume of palay at 20.4 MMT, or 1 MMT higher than last year’s 19.4 MMT record. If the DA’s goal materializes, then the country would achieve 95-percent rice self-sufficiency level, the department said.
Image credits: Bernard Testa