Producing your own organic fertilizer

Land degradation in the country affects about one-third of the population, according to Senator Loren Legarda, chair of the Senate Committee on Climate Change. More than 33 million Filipinos are affected by it, she said, adding that it likely contributes to widespread and severe poverty in the rural areas.

Land degradation can be seen in the form of soil erosion. The Washington, D.C.-based Worldwatch Institute considers soil erosion as “a silent crisis.” While we are worried about other countries conquering our land, our silent enemy keeps on encroaching our lands.

“(Soil erosion) is a slow creeping enemy that soon possesses the land,” commented Harold R. Watson, the 1985 Ramon Magsaysay awardee for peace and international understanding and former director of Davao-based Mindanao Baptist Rural Life Center (MBRLC).

Recent studies show soil erosion affects 63%-76% of the country’s total land area of 30 million hectares. This is particularly true in the uplands, where 74% of the area is cultivated for subsistence farming.

“Available estimates indicate that the total degraded area in the Philippines is around 11.45 million hectares in the uplands or 38% of the country’s land territory, affecting around 33 million Filipinos,” wrote Dieldre S. Harder, a researcher with the Economy and Environment Program for Southeast Asia (EEPSEA).

In terms of severity, 5.2 million hectares and 8.5 million hectares of the country’s total arable lands are severely eroded and moderately eroded, respectively, according to the report.

In 1989, the World Bank estimated the annual value of on-site fertility losses due to unsustainable upland agriculture in the country to be around US$100 million – that equal to one percent of Philippine gross domestic product per year.

Organic farming has been cited as one possible solution of the problem of land degradation.
Environment-friendly, natural, not using pesticides and other chemicals, sustainable, regenerative, and healthy – these are the words use to describe this method of farming which has recently captured the attention of many countries around the world.

Thanks to Republic Act 10068, organic farming is now being promoted in the country. More popularly known as the Organic Agriculture Act of 2010, the law is a state policy that promotes, propagates, and further develops the practice of organic farming in the country.

In a recent paper, Lucille Elna Parreno-de Guzman gives us further information about organic agriculture: “Organic agriculture is an agricultural production system that avoids or largely excludes the use of synthetically compounded fertilizers, growth regulators, pesticides, livestock feed additives, and genetically modified organisms and products.”

It has almost been seven years now since RA 10068 has been signed but still not too many farmers are adopting the technology. What must be the reasons?

To find out, Parreno-de Guzman conducted a study in selected towns in Laguna and in La Trinidad, Benguet, where farmers are adopting organic agriculture. Chemical pollution of soil and water bodies is the main land degradation issue in the municipalities where the study was done. “This is mainly due to the continuous and indiscriminate use of chemical inputs in farming,” Parreno-de Guzman wrote.

Agricultural savants believe that continued use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides causes organisms present in the soil to die. Without soil organisms, chemically saturated land will eventually lose its capacity to nourish healthy and fruitful crops, until finally the soil “dies.” With “dead” soil, how can farmers grow crops?

“There are many ways of conserving the soil to maintain its productivity and one of the most efficient measures is by adding organic matter,” notes the Laguna-based Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCAARRD).

“Organic fertilizers rejuvenate and improve soil properties for better crop production,” PCAARRD explains. “They contain beneficial microorganisms and humus, that when applied, will improve the soil’s physical, chemical and biological properties.”

In cooperation with Benguet State University, the PCAARRD came up with easy-to-read primer on producing organic fertilizer right in the farm. “Producing organic fertilizers at the farm will ensure the addition of humus to the soil for a more efficient crop production,” it says.

Organic fertilizer is defined as: “any product in solid or liquid form, of plant (except by-products from petroleum industries) or animal origin that has undergone substantial decomposition. It can supply available nutrients to plants with a total nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) of 5-7%. This may be enriched by microbial inoculants and natural-occurring minerals.”

Here are the steps in producing your own organic fertilizer, according to Organic Fertilizer Production:

1. Collect raw materials: dried chicken manure, sawdust or coco sawdust, wild sunflower, and Trichoderma.

Dried chicken manure is the preferred component over fresh chicken manure because the latter contains contaminants and harmful microorganisms and emits foul odor. Both sawdust and coco sawdust are waste materials generated by the lumber industry; be sure not to use those chemically-treated.

Wildflower, on the other hand, is rich in nitrogen. Adding it to the pile increases nitrogen content of the organic fertilizer. Trichoderma, meanwhile, is a fungus found to be an efficient decomposer because it enhances the composting process.

2. Shred the raw materials. This is done to physically reduce the size of raw materials for faster decomposition.

Shred the raw materials to 1-inch diameter or smaller, specifically those tough and fibrous plant tissues. Shred the wild sunflower stems up to 2-3 centimeters to provide a greater surface area for decomposition.

To enhance decomposition, pulverize the chicken manure and sawdust, particularly those that turned into lumps.

3. Pile the shredded raw materials. Pile the raw materials layer by layer. Prepare a maximum of six layers (or 1.5-meter-thick) of materials. Each layer is about 1-foot thick. The ratio of raw materials is 50% dried chicken manure, 25% sawdust or coco sawdust, and 25% wild sunflower.

A layer of materials consists of two parts manure, one part sawdust or coco sawdust, and one part wild sunflower, which are spread on top of each other. Trichoderma is usually spread as a thin layer.

Stack the layers until the pile reaches 1.5 meters high. Apply water to each layer until it is sufficiently moist. There is no need to put ash/lime or bamboo breathers.

Monitor the temperature of the pile with a thermometers (0⁰-200⁰C, with a long probe). Maintain the temperature between 40⁰C and 60⁰C for three weeks. This can be done by regularly mixing the pile.

4. Water the pile. Water each layer of raw materials after piling. Thereafter, water the pile regularly, at least 2-3 times a week. The material must be moist. But avoid it becoming soggy or compacted. Moisture content is best between 40% and 60%.

Avoid adding too much water into the pile to prevent anaerobic decomposition. Foul odors are from anaerobic activity and indicate lack of oxygen. If the pile becomes too wet, increase turning frequency and/or add fibrous materials to the pile in order to reduce the moisture content and increase oxygen.

5. Mix the compost pile. Turn the compost pile from top to bottom after two weeks from piling. Repeat this every week thereafter until the pile has fully decomposed. Mix the pile to help break down tough and fibrous plant materials efficiently. By doing this, moisture and organisms that help breakdown the raw materials are distributed evenly in the composting materials.

If fungus activator such as Trichoderma is applied, the pile takes 1-2 months to decompose. However, the decomposition process without fungus activator takes 2-3 months.

6. Cover with polyethylene plastic. Cover the pile with black polyethylene plastic sheets to control the temperature and maintain the required heat.

7. Add carbonized rice hull. Add about 2 kilograms of carbonized rice hull to 48 kilograms of organic fertilizer to prevent the occurrence and proliferation of harmful fungi in the organic fertilizer.

8. Air-dry the organic fertilizer. The standard moisture content of the organic fertilizer for the market is 30%. Thus, air-drying is necessary to attain this desired moisture.

9. Sieve/refine the organic fertilizer. When lumps have formed during composting, pulverize them through the same shredder used in cutting raw materials. Use a 2-mm mesh sieve to produce a uniformly-sized and finer organic fertilizer.

10. Bag the organic fertilizer. Pack the sieved/refined organic fertilizer in 1-kilogram, 35-kilogram, and 50-kilogram bags or sacks.

According to the primer, one cycle of organic fertilizer production takes 30-45 days. In one year, eight production cycles are possible.

At the end of the eighth cycle, a net income of P37,600 to P57,000 can be realized. In other areas, a good quality organic fertilizer can be sold from P300 to P400 per bag.