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Seed supply company targets growing urban farming market

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urban farming
East-West Seed prototype hydroponic unit for urban farming. -- ANNA GABRIELA A. MOGATO

VEGETABLE and flower seed producer and supplier East-West Seed Co. is planning to expand its portfolio by offering vertical farming solutions such as hydroponic units and smaller greenhouses to urban dwellers.

East-West Seed Co. Agricultural Engineer Pedro F. Dayag III, who designed the hydroponic unit prototypes, said that the company decided to target prospective urban farmers due to strong interest.

“We’re still more concentrated on farmers in the provinces. We rarely entertain urban. Now, since our technology has achieved scale, we will bring it to urban [farming],” he added.

“[For urban farming], we are trying to educate those who eat vegetables that they can also do it on their own. It doesn’t really have to come from big farms. It also has a lot of benefits — aside from eating vegetables, you know how it’s planted. It’s also therapeutic [to grow your own vegetables].”

Mr. Dayag said that while hydroponic units are not yet available for mass production, the company will accommodate individual orders.

“If there’s an inquiry and someone wants it made then we can probably accommodate because is what we are really selling here is the greenhouse [for urban farming]. Greenhouses have a repeat-buy but this one (hydroponic unit) is only a one-time buy,” he added.

East-West Seed Co. got into the business of manufacturing and installing greenhouses almost 10 years ago at the request of farmers who buy seeds from the company. Mr. Dayag said that while greenhouses can be customized, these usually come in two sizes, 3.5 meters by 18 meters and 6 meters by 24 meters.

If built and installed in Manila, the greenhouse can cost to about P50,000 to P55,000. This does not, however, include the hydroponics units inside.

The company last month exhibited a hydroponic unit which can cost around P6,000 to P8,000, which includes the aquarium pump to circulate a solution outsourced from the University of the Philippines-Los Baños. At a height of about four feet, the unit can accommodate around 72 receptacles for growing vegetables.

“I was thinking of a design [for hydroponics] that can be used in condominiums with its own lighting and aquarium pump,” Mr. Dayag said.

“All the end-user has to do [is] to choose what to plant — it can be lettuce, kangkong (water spinach), pechay (bok choy). And on the first week, they plant only on the first layer, and add another layer on the second week so that they won’t run out of vegetables. For a single person, that’s a lot.”

Field marketing representative Cusrome Loi S. Adaro said that aside from hydroponics, the company is also offer repurposed pallets for gardening.

“We had that idea because we had so many pallets in the office that remained unused. We also had another project, the “seed in the city,” where we conducted urban farming seminars to get ideas like that,” he added.

“It is now possible that the land needed for farming not be that big; that’s why we thought of projects such as container gardening. That it our focus right now but [rural] farmers are really still our main market.” — Anna Gabriela A. Mogato