STORAGE IS expected to be a bottleneck for the rice industry during the harvest this month due to significant volumes of stock accumulated from the previous harvest, which traders can only sell at a loss because prices have dropped as a result of stiff competition from cheap imports, industry officials said.

Palagay ko lahat ngayong season na ito, loaded pa rin (I think this season, all warehouses will be loaded.),” Elizabeth Mendoza-Vana, president of the Nueva Ecija Rice Millers Association, told BusinessWorld in a phone interview.

Naghahanap sila [National Food Authority] ng mga warehouses na uupahanDito sa amin sa San Jose (Nueva Ecija), wala pa akong nababalitaan na mgapapa-upa ng warehouse sa kanila. Naghahanap daw sila sa Gapan, Nueva Ecija… parang wala pa silang concrete na plano ngayong harvest season (The NFA is looking for warehouses to rent… Here in San Jose, I haven’t heard of anyone who can rent out warehouses. I heard the NFA is also looking in Gapan, Nueva Ecija… it seems like they do not have a concrete plan yet this harvest season.)” she added.

She noted that Isabela warehouses still have about 30% to 40% of their capacity taken up by palay, or unmilled rice, from the April–May harvest season, while Nueva Ecija still has about 20%.

The government has pushed the NFA to accelerate the sale of its remaining stock of imported rice and purchasing palay from domestic rice farmers, especially now the harvest season is about to start.

During the public hearing on the implementation of the Rice Tariffication Law on Aug. 28, NFA Administrator Judy Carol L. Dansal said that the agency still has 290,000 metric tons (MT) or 4 million bags of imported rice valued at about P6 billion remaining unsold.

In a statement, Ms. Dansal said that the agency has never stopped domestic procurement even with the volume of imported rice it has it its warehouses.

“As we have repeatedly explained, the NFA’s procurement operations are a year-round activity. Our field personnel are always ready to receive palay deliveries from farmers through our more than 300 buying stations strategically located across the country,” Ms. Dansal said.

Ms. Mendoza-Vana said that the NFA has invited rice millers to bid for stocks of imported rice valued at about P1,200 per 50-kilogram (kg) bag as a way of clearing out NFA warehouses.

Ms. Mendoza-Vana said private rice millers are open to buying palay from farmers as long as the grain meets their standards.

Mayroon akong quality na mine-maintain, so hindi ko pwedeng sabihin na bibilhin ko ‘yung palay mo, gigilingin ko, pero hindi ako sure kung pasado ‘yan sa quality ko. Kaya minsan hesitant din kaming mga private rice millers na makisama (We need to observe a certain quality standard, so I can’t just agree to buy any palay and mill it when I’m not sure it will meet my standards. That’s why private millers are reluctant to participate in any buying initiative)” she said.

Patuloy pa rin naman kaming bibili sa mga magsasaka, kaya lang nga sa lumalakad na presyo (We will buy from farmers, but at a competitive price),” she added.

Asked to comment, Rosendo O. So, chairman of Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (SINAG), said that 80% of rice millers still have old stock.

“Some of them have sold at P17 per kg, so they can buy newly-harvested palay again,” he said, adding that he will set up a meeting with Agriculture Secretary (William D. Dar) and rice millers “because this will be another problem with rice millers unable or unwilling to buy.” — Vincent Mariel P. Galang