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Group of ARBs Finds Sugar Block Farming Ideal for Cash-Strapped Farmers

EDERLINDA Maullon always found herself at the short end after each cropping season, having to make do with crumbs that hardly compensate for the time and efforts she spent in harnessing half a hectare sugarcane farm left under her care by her late husband.
But Linda, as her peers fondly call her, felt helpless to change the situation all by herself since everything she put in, from land preparation to farm inputs, came from a bank loan that charged her 26 percent interest annually.
“The bigger part of the income from our farm usually ended up as payment for the loan principal and the corresponding interest, leaving me practically with an average net income of P5,000 each cropping season,” says Linda, the vice chairman of the Lucban Multi-Purpose Cooperative (LMPC).
Linda and her fellow farmers had gotten used to getting the short end of the deal until the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) introduced the sugar block farming system that would turn things around for them.
Though they had doubts about the new farming method, Linda says, a good number of them took their chances, while others preferred to take a wait-and-see attitude, thinking that it was just a ploy to take back the farmlots that had been awarded to them under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).
Their leap of faith paid off, Linda says, as the DAR provided all that the farmers needed, such as farm inputs, new farm techniques and “common service facilities” made up of a mechanized tractor and a hauling truck, something that they had never expected even in their wildest imagination.
These inputs and farm equipment were turned over at no cost to the LMPC, which serves as conduit between the DAR and the farmer-beneficiaries, who are availing themselves of this new farming method.
The LMPC has been tasked to harness and manage them well to ensure the continued operation of the block farming system until every farmer in their area embraces the system and they end up working together in one big sugarcane plantation.
Today, Linda says, she no longer worries as to where she would get the needed capital to finance the land preparation and farm inputs for each cropping season.
“The LMPC takes care of the cost of production at no interest, even the land preparation, leaving farmers like me to do menial jobs like planting sugarcane seedlings and occasional application of fertilizer and herbicides,” Linda says.
In her first engagement into block farming, Linda recalls earning gross income of P55,000. After deducting all expenses, from land preparation to farm inputs all the way to hauling of harvest to the sugarmill, all amounting to P23,000, and P9,450, representing the 35 percent shares of the LMPC, she netted P22,550, four times better than the P5,000 she earned before.
Besides the “plant-now-pay-later” scheme the LMPC is offering to those who have no standing capital, Linda says they have also been guided through and through by experts from the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) of the Department of Agriculture (DA) in the proper planting of sugarcane seedlings.
“Before, we used to plant seedlings at one-foot interval recklessly. Now, we do it close to one another, taking into account that the seedlings are laid on the ground with the points where tillers usually develop positioned sideways to maximize growth,” she points out.

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