AGRICULTURAL OUTPUT is likely to have improved in the third quarter due to favorable indications from the rice harvest, supported by good weather and the easing of quarantine restrictions, according to the Agriculture department and industry experts.

The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) is scheduled to release production indicators for the farm sector today, Nov. 9.

Asked to comment ahead of the data release, Department of Agriculture spokesperson Noel O. Reyes said the agriculture sector’s performance during the third quarter was positive.

In a mobile phone interview, Mr. Reyes based his assessment on a PSA report which estimated the output of palay, or unmilled rice, at 3.542 million metric tons (MT) in the third quarter, which if borne out would represent a 16.1% increase year on year.

“That increase is huge. It will affect the country’s entire agricultural output figures. Palay takes up more than half of crop production. We are seeing that agricultural output remains positive,” Mr. Reyes said.

In the second quarter, agricultural production rose 0.5%, propelled by growth in the crops and fisheries subsectors, but weighed down by declining output in the livestock and poultry subsectors.

Pampanga State Agricultural University professor Roy S. Kempis said better weather conditions during the period led to higher rice and corn production.

“Agricultural performance in the third quarter of the year could (skew) upwards, ranging from 0.51% to 0.91%,” Mr. Kempis said in an e-mail interview.

Mr. Kempis said rice and corn planted in May and June were harvested in September, raising overall supply of the commodities, which will be reflected in the third quarter.

“(Improvement in) fruit and vegetable production has likewise been seen in more products displayed and sold in the market — in public markets, supermarkets, and roadside stalls that have propped up,” he added.

Glenn B. Gregorio, director of Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA), estimated growth in the agriculture sector at 0.8% in the third quarter.

“However, this value needs to be significantly improved to at least 2% or higher if we are to maximize the agriculture sector’s transformative role in the Philippine economy,” Mr. Gregorio said in an e-mail interview.

Mr. Gregorio said fisheries output is likely to have increased due to the relaxed quarantine protocols when compared to the two previous quarters.

“The easing of mobility restrictions has significantly fueled the increase in demand for fishery resources, which in turn may have further spawned an increase in fishing effort,” Mr. Gregorio said.

On the other hand, both experts are expecting a decline in livestock production, particularly the hog subsector, due to African Swine Fever (ASF).

Mr. Kempis said major slaughterhouses in Tarlac, Cabanatuan, and Angeles City suggest a 50% drop in hogs brought in for slaughter.

“Commercial pig farms in Central Luzon, both for hybrid and native pigs, have had their stocks wiped out. They have not yet re-started their operations,” Mr. Kempis said.

However, he said poultry output for the third quarter is likely to have improved with contract growers probably increasing their production as consumers seek substitutes for pork due to worries about ASF.

SEARCA’s Mr. Gregorio called for better biosecurity measures to ensure sustainable and safe livestock and poultry production.

“We suspect that the ongoing concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic have resulted in unintended additional restrictions on livestock and poultry production,” Mr. Gregorio said.

“There is a need for urgent interventions like tunnel ventilation technologies along with greater public awareness,” he added.

In October, the PSA said that the palay harvest area likely increased 15.7% to 859,533 hectares, with a yield per hectare estimated at 4.12 MT.

According to PSA data, the farm sector accounts for about a tenth of gross domestic product and a quarter of the workforce. — Revin Mikhael D. Ochave