Conversations with architect turned farmer

She finished an architecture course but she is better known for her agricultural pursuits. We are talking of Rolita “Baby” V. Spowart, an old time friend who is currently into orchids and ornamental plants, Milky mushroom, and commercial rice farming.

A few nights back (November 2), she called us up from her rice farm in Cabatuan, Isabela. She was particularly excited telling us about her ratoon rice crop on about 40 hectares. She said that the crop will be harvestable in two weeks after our conversation. And representatives of the Department of Agriculture who visited her farm estimate that each hectare could yield 80 to 100 cavans per hectare.

  • RICE HARVESTING MACHINE – Mechanical rice harvesters have now become popular in Isabela which is a major producer of rice and corn. According to Rolita ‘Baby’ Spowart who manages an 84-hectare rice farm in Cabatuan town, a lot of people have bought rice harvesters for rent. The machine owners harvest the rice which are automatically threshed and placed inside sacks. For this service they get a share of 9 percent of the harvest. The share of the farm owner is delivered to his bodega already placed in sacks that are provided by the harvester. The scheme is so convenient, according to Spowart. Harvesting is fast. One machine can harvest three hectares in one day.

RICE HARVESTING MACHINE – Mechanical rice harvesters have now become popular in Isabela which is a major producer of rice and corn. According to Rolita ‘Baby’ Spowart who manages an 84-hectare rice farm in Cabatuan town, a lot of people have bought rice harvesters for rent. The machine owners harvest the rice which are automatically threshed and placed inside sacks. For this service they get a share of 9 percent of the harvest. The share of the farm owner is delivered to his bodega already placed in sacks that are provided by the harvester. The scheme is so convenient, according to Spowart. Harvesting is fast. One machine can harvest three hectares in one day.

That yield of 80 to 100 cavans per hectare is considered very high as far as ratoon rice crops are concerned. Rice ratoons may normally yield about 40 cavans of palay per hectare. It could even be less.

By the way, ratoon crop is the crop that follows the first harvest. After harvesting the crop, tillers arise from the stumps of the harvested rice. These tillers will grow and produce panicles that are harvested about 90 days after flattening the rice stubbles to the ground after harvesting the first crop.

Her rice farm (84 hectares in all) is non-irrigated but the ratoons have grown very well by just depending on the rain. Her initial crop was planted in May. She harvested the same last August and immediately flattened to the ground rice stubbles so that the tillers that arise would grow freely. Although the farm is rain-fed, the plants survived even without any irrigation. Baby said the roots of the rice plants had gone deep in the ground.

Baby said she just applied a minimal amount of urea plus EM or effective microorganisms. If she had applied more fertilizers, she believes her ratoon crop would even yield higher.

The ratoon crop is really profitable because there is less expenses. There is no need to plow the field. No new seeds are required. And the crop is harvestable within a shorter time.

   ABOUT BABY SPOWART – We first knew Baby Spowart many years ago as an architect who self-studied tissue culture of orchids. She researched from the internet and put up her laboratory with materials she bought from Thailand. She produced a lot of orchid seedlings of the varieties from Hawaii and sold many of the same to customers from the United States and South America.

Up to now she maintains an orchid farm for cut flowers and a nursery in Bulacan. With the help of son Mark, she has a Milky mushroom project and ornamental plants in Amadeo, Cavite.

Baby is responsible for bringing into the Philippines the Milky mushroom from India. This is a giant very white mushroom that is easier to propagate than the commonly grown oyster mushroom. Now, an entrepreneur who studied under Baby has put up a commercial Milky mushroom production project in Pura, Tarlac to meet the requirements of two big regular buyers. And the entrepreneur is also conducting seminars to teach other interested growers.

Baby is also expanding her own Milky mushroom production in her farm in San Jose del Monte City because of the interest of foreign buyers. She said that a Japanese importer is very interested in importing the mushroom at a very high price but with a special packaging.

Another interested buyer is from Hawaii. The fellow wants to import not the mushroom but the spawns for growing in Hawaii.

  RICE FARM – What keeps Baby very occupied in Isabela is the 84-hectare rice farm that was left by her late father, an agriculture graduate from UP Los Baños.

In her rice farm, she has been experimenting a lot of things. She has raised 3,000 ducks in the farm at one time. After stopping for some time, she is again ready to buy a new batch of ducks after being convinced about the viability of the project.

Then she experimented on ratooning her rice. While she has not made a name in architecture, Baby has already done so much in the field of agriculture.

By the way, she has mechanized her rice farming operations. She has her own rice harvester that could harvest three hectares in one day. But she also relies on the services of people who harvest her crop with their own mechanical harvesters.

She relates that there are now thousands of Kubota rice harvesting machines in Isabela and many of them are for contract harvesting. Baby does not have any problem harvesting her 84-hectare rice farm because of the private harvesters.

She said that the harvesters get a share of 9 percent of the harvest. But it is so convenient for her because the palay is delivered to her bodega, already placed in sacks. The sacks are provided by the harvesters.

by Zac Sarian

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