By 1990 Mrs. Soledad Agbayani was already a big name in agribusiness, having had 200,000 egg layers, 15,000 pigs and about 600 full-grown mango trees in her farm in San Miguel, Bulacan. But she wanted to prove that she can grow grapes, a crop most people she knew had told her it was very difficult to produce.
Many well-meaning friends had advised her not to waste her money in trying to grow grapes because of serious problems. When there’s continuous rain, powdery mildew and other fungal diseases would kill the plants.
But the words of discouragement did not deter Mrs. Agbayani from planting 1.2 hectares to the Red Cardinal variety in early 1990. In fact it was those discouraging words that challenged her the more to venture into the risky farm project. And how did she fare?
A person made of lesser stuff and with less money would probably have given up just a few months after planting. When the heavy rains came in July and August that year, many of the vines perished due to waterlogging and disease. But there were enough that survived.
She had spent a fortune on pesticides and labor, but she considered that as part of the game, part of the challenge. She was determined to see the project succeed and make money eventually.
SHE HAD A STRATEGY – When her problems in growing her grapes arose, she had thought of a way to recover some of her expenses. She intercropped her grapes with watermelon by planting watermelon seeds about a foot from the base of each grape plant.
She planted the watermelon seeds on October 16, 1990 and before the following Christmas she harvested a bountiful crop. She made a very good income from her watermelons because she was ahead of the other growers in the market. Besides, it was Chrismas time and prices of things to buy were high.
Mrs. Agbayani soon installed a drip irrigation system in preparation for the following summer months. She did not mind paying a high price for the drip irrigation because she did not want her grape plants to suffer from drought.
The grapes with the drip irrigation grew beautifully and by that time she was anxious to see her grapes bear fruit. The vines were only a little over a year old and her friends told her the vines were too young to bear fruit. Again, she did not heed their advice. She pruned the vines so they would flower. And by May 1991, she harvested her first crop of Red Cardinal grapes. She got 750 kilos and sold most of them at P80 per kilo while some were given as gift to friends, including this agri journalist.
Most probably, Mrs. Agbayani spent more than what she got from selling her grapes. So what? It was enough that she was able to prove that she could produce grapes.- ZAC B. SARIAN, Memoirs of an Agri Journalist.