Proving small farm areas can earn a million:

“Sisimulan ko sa aking sarili na patunayan na sa pagsasaka, maaaring makaka-produce tayo ng pagkain; kikita at mababago ang ating buhay na nakasanayan kahit maliit lang ang ating lupang sinasaka. I want to serve as a living testimony that farming is good and profitable.”

Antonio Fontanilla, Jr., 23, of Sitio Malacañang, Barangay Bugbugcao in the town of San Juan, La Union, exudes positivity for being one of the top three Regional Level awardees of the Ilocos Region in the Young Farmers Challenge Fund (YFCF) of the Department of Agriculture (DA).

Fontanilla, a graduate of Bachelor of Science in Agriculture from the Don Mariano Marcos Memorial State University, is among the top graduates of the University in April 2020. He is the owner and manager of a small piece of land, which he named ABF Integrated Farm.

Driven by his passion for farming, his original plan of entering the academy after graduation did not push through as fate took him into something better than what he wished for—to have his own business enterprise and be his own boss.

He has been very thankful to the DA’s YFCF, which provided him with great opportunities and privileges in putting up his integrated farm.

Meeting the YFCF Program

“Nalaman ko po ang Young Farmers Challenge Fund Program sa pamamagitan ng social media, sa Facebook po ng RAFIS Region I. Bago ako sumali sa Young Farmers Challenge, plano ko pong mag-enter na sa government service. Kaso lang po, blessedly, interview ko sana kinaumagahan sa DMMMSU-SLUC, nauna naman pong dumating ang Young Farmers Challenge,” Fontanilla explained.

Seeing the potential of the program to his business proposal, without a second thought, he immediately prepared the required documents prior to his application to the Program. Passing the rigorous process of application, his efforts paid off when he won as one of the top three winners at the Provincial Level Competition. Getting strong support from his family and community became his driving force to succeed in his chosen endeavor. Fontanilla involves everyone in his neighborhood in his journey as a young agripreneur as his way to encourage them to see farming as a good income opportunity.

“It’s a challenge for me as an agriculture graduate na makitang naghihirap ang aking mga kababayan. Naisip kong useless itong kurso ko if hindi ko mapataas ang estado ng buhay sa community namin. Gusto kong ipakita sa kanila na may pera sa agrikultura,” says Fontanilla.

Practical farming strategies and innovations employed

True to his words, in such a short time, and with the financial assistance he received through winning in the YFCF, Fontanilla gradually developed the 196-square-meter lot of his grandmother, which he was able to expand to 396 square meters into something productive and worthwhile. Planted with solanaceous crops such as eggplants, chili peppers, tomatoes, and cabbages, his farm showcases various production technologies and breakthroughs in agriculture. Here, he executed his various learnings from school and personal experiences as a young farmer. His farm served as his own laboratory to explore possibilities to improve his farming productivity.

Featuring the drip irrigation system, a technology originated from Israel that can be used to control water of up to 90-95 percent, helps his farm minimize soil erosion, weed control, disease control, and even leaching of nutrients from the soil.

Also, his demonstration area shows intercropping of various commodities, which provide a back-to-back harvest, maximizing the potential income of his farm.

The lettuce-producing hydroponics, which is considered as one of the futures of agriculture where crops are produced without using soil, is also an added attraction in his farm.

His scaled-up and modular nursery showcases practical ways on how backyard farmers can produce thousands of seedlings using this technology.

“Ginawa ko po na puwede siyang mabaklas para ‘yong farmers, malayo man ang mga farm nila, puwede nilang i-assemble mismo sa kanilang mga farm. At kung bumagyo naman, puwedeng-puwede na lang baklasin para hindi naman masira ang mga nakatanim dito,” Fontanilla added.

Minimizing his cost of production, Fontanilla adapted soil analysis in his farm using the practical soil test kit of the University of the Philippines Los Baños. This is to check the status of the soil and to help decide what kind of fertilizer to use, the right time, and the right amount to apply for his crops.

Fontanilla uses plastic mulch to manage and control weeds and diseases on his plants while conserving the moisture content of the soil. As a smart farmer, he does not use a high level of concentration of fertilizer. Instead, he uses ten liters of water in a handful of complete fertilizer, enough to fertigate his plants. Incorporating the commercial fertilizer with organic fertilizer like the animal manure and rice straw in his farm makes his eggplants, chili peppers, and tomatoes grow robustly and give him abundant harvests.

His unique and scientifically-based farming practices applied in his farm gave him the edge over the other contenders as he was able to demonstrate how lucrative and productive his small area is.

After his YFCF stint

With more than Php 200 worth of fertilizer used in the first batch of production, he obtained more than Php 21,000 income from his nursery production alone.

He gets at least Php 256 income per 128-hole seedling tray, sold at Php 2 per seedlings. A 50-tray maximum production gives him an estimated income of Php 12,800 from his seedling production alone, aside from his production on his solanaceous crops and other plants.

Fontanilla has encouraged his community to practice backyard farming as most of his quality seedlings were patronized by his neighbors and adjacent barangays. He plans to expand his farm by installing a greenhouse, incorporating animal production like goat and rabbit, vermicomposting, and engaging in fish tank culture.

Fontanilla is grateful to God Almighty, his family, the community, and the Department of Agriculture through the YFCF Program for all the blessings and opportunities.

“Sa mga kabataan po na tulad ko, kung may mga naiisip kayong negosyo na may kinalaman sa agrikultura na wala pa o hindi pa popular dito sa atin pero kulang kayo ng capital, huwag kayong mag-atubiling makipag-ugnayan sa DA dahil malaking tulong po ito upang maiangat ang buhay natin at matupad ang ating mga hangarin sa buhay,” said Fontanilla.

“Kung may maliit kayong lupain, hindi imposibleng mapalago ninyo ito kung yayakapin ninyo ang biyaya mula sa agrikultura, basta magtiyaga at magpursigi lamang kayo,” he added.

“Kagaya ko ngayon, akin na lamang po ang oras ko and at the same time, boss ako sa enterprise na ito,” he ended. ###