The Philippines is one of the world’s largest producers of fiber crops. It is blessed with optimal weather conditions, good types of soil, even distribution of rain throughout the year, and other related factors, which make growing fiber crops favorable. Abaca, cotton, maguey, pineapple, and ramie are just some fiber crops grown in the country. These crops are used in making different products sold in local and international markets. The raw materials we get from fiber crops are valued for their strength and durability. These fiber crops provide us with materials use in making clothes, linen, bags, nets, slippers, doormats, mats, and others.
Demands for fiber crops today are increasing in local and foreign markets. Due to high technology, production and processing of fiber crops have been made easy and accessible. Thus, increasing demands for fiber crops are easily met.
Today, fiber crops are considered as one of the important agricultural products of the country.
- Abaca – one of the valuable indigenous plants of the Philippines. Abaca is a banana-like plant. The trunk of the plant consists of 92% water. The finer fibers, often about five meters (15 ft.) long, are used for weaving cloth. The outer, courser fibers are used in manufacturing matting and durable cordage. Abaca has numerous uses and products like Manila paper, copra bags, tea bags, coffee filters, and security and currency papers. Abaca leaves are used for shading and wrapping. Leaf sheaths are used for roofing and for shading newly transplanted seedling, while the dried outer leaf sheaths are used for making trays, bags, wall panelling, and place mats. In the Bicol region (Albay, Camarines, and Sorsogon), the most varieties of abaca grown are Itom, Itolus 45, Lausigon, Lausmug 24, Sagurud, Samina, Sugmad, and Tinawagan.
- Cotton – locally known as bulak. It is the most adaptable and one of the most widely used fibers. Cotton lint is the fiber used for textiles. Its fibers have a great economic importance as a raw material used in manufacturing cloth, knitted cotton, mattresses, pillows, threads, and twines. Its widespread use is largely due to the ease in which its fibers can be spun into yarn. The strength, absorbency, and capacity of cotton to be washed and dyed also make it adaptable to a considerable variety of textile products. The varieties most recommended for planting are Batangas White and Kapas Purao.
- Maguey (Agave cantala) – its commercial production began in 1904. Moderate or short rainy seasons and long dry seasons are suitable for growing maguey. Too much rain is harmful to the plant. The fibers are dried and bleached during dry, warm, and bright days. The leaves of maguey are thick and pulpy with sharp points and spiny margins. The stalk or stem is stout and rather short. This plant grows slowly and flowers only once. It rises up to a height of six meters and has unpleasant odor. Maguey fibers are used in making cloth, coiled basket, cord, fish net, hammock, sole of sued shoes, and others. The three famous varieties of maguey in the Philippines are Maguey (Agave cantala), Henequen (Agave fourcroydes), and Zapupe (Agave zapupe).
- Pineapple – Cabezine or the Queen Variety is the only variety of pineapple commonly raised for fiber production. This variety is used in producing piña jusi, which is the material in barong and other elegant filipiniana dresses. The Queen Variety has a smaller crown but has long and spiny leaves. The leaves grow to about 100 cm long and 6.5 cm wide. Pineapples may grow in almost every part of the Philippines especially in Cavite, Batangas, and Bukidnon.
- Ramie – recognized as a valuable commodity even in ancient China, where it is said to have originated. Commercial demand for ramie is increasing due to its may uses. Ramie fibers are exceptionally long, lustrous, durable, soft, and stronger than cotton. Ramie is also resistant to chemicals and mildew. Ramie is also readily dyed but hard to spin. It is the strongest fiber crown known. Aside from its strength, ramie fiber does not stretch or shrink. Ramie is blended with cotton and other fibers to produce high-quality upholstery materials, tapestries, clothing, bags, ropes, insulation for cables, fish lines, nets, shoelaces, and other materials. The famous variety of ramie is Boehmeria nivea. This variety is indigenous to China and to known as China grass.
Preparing the Soil for Planting Fiber Crops
Land preparation is either done by animal or mechanical power. Harrowing and plowing must be done thoroughly so that the soil will be pulverized well. If harrowing and plowing are done correctly, weeds and insect eggs that might be in the soil will be destroyed. Sites for planting fiber crops (except for abaca) need to be plowed and harrowed twice. Do the second tillage option at least one week after the first to make sure that weeds are already dry.
Planting Fiber Crops
If the planting of abaca is to be done on a cleaned land and if plowing and harrowing have already been done, holes should be dug mechanically. The size of the holes should vary from 40-50 cm in diameter and 30-40 cm deep. Digging holes ca be also done manually.
There are three ways of spacing abaca when planting. These are square, quincunx, and double-row methods.
- Square Method – the abaca suckers or rootstocks are planted in holes three meters apart along the vertical row and also three meters along the horizontal row.
- Quincunx Method – the plants are planted three meters apart along the first horizontal row. The first plant in the second horizontal row is set between the first and the second plants of the first horizontal row in such a way that the three plants are equidistant from each other. All the plants in the second horizontal row are also spaced three meters apart.
- Double-row Method – the spacing of the first two plants along the first horizontal row is three meters apart, the third plant is spaced five meters from the second, the third and the fourth plants are spaced three meters apart, and so on. Each plant in a pair is spaced three meters apart from each other, and each pair is five meters away from the next pair.
Treat the cottonseeds before planting. Seeds should be sown at a distance of 30 cm between rows and 100 cm between hills. Plant three to seed per hill. If the seedlings are overcrowded per hill, thinning can be done. Unless the seeds show a good probability of germination, the number of seeds sown per hill may be decreased.
In planting maguey, the distance between rows is 2.5 or 3 m and 2 or 2.5 m between rows. If plants have been planted very close to one another, the leaves may cross and cut each other during strong winds. If the area for planting maguey is arid and rocky, extra soil preparation is no longer needed. A little weeding and digging of holes for the plants can be done. The propagating materials used for planting maguey are seeds, bulbs, and suckers. Seed are rarely used for commercial planting. If bulbs are to be used, they should be grown first in a nursery bed until they reach a height of about 30 cm before transplanting. On the other hand, suckers of about 30 cm high can be planted as soon as they are cut from the parent plants. Plant suckers perfectly upright so as not to allow soil to fall in between the leaves or else the plants will rot.
Pineapple is asexually propagated using suckers (develop from the leaf axils of the stem), slips (developed from the flower stalks), and crowns (leafy green tops of the fruit). Seldom does a grower use seeds as propagating material. Pineapples are planted two to five rows per bed with a distance of 30-46 cm between hills and 45-50 cm between rows. Crown bear fruits in 22-24 months, slips in 20 months, and suckers in 17 months. To avoid damaging the planting materials and sand sifting into the bud, do not plant them to deep on the ground.
Ramie plant can be sexually and asexually propagated. Seeds are seldom used for planting ramie. The method used in planting is the indirect method, wherein seeds are sown first into a seed box or seedbed. After two to three weeks, seedlings can be transplanted into the field. In the commercial scale propagation of ramie, asexual propagation is employed using mature cuttings or reproductive roots (rhizomes). Choose brown stems (preferably the size of a lead pencil) with three to four nodes and at least half to one foot long. Cuttings are planted in a slanting position at 45 degrees, one to two inches deep in the furrows, and covered with soil. The time of planting depends on the locality, while distance of planting depends on soil variety and fertility.
Appropriate Water Supply for Growing Fiber Crops
Like any other plants, fiber crops need enough water supply. The rainy season is appropriate for planting fiber crops. Water is essential during the time of planting, transplanting, growth, and development of fiber crops like cotton, ramie, and jute. However, drought-resistant fiber crops like abaca, maguey, and pineapple need less water when fully developed. The following methods of irrigation could be used: overhead irrigation, surface irrigation, and subsurface irrigation.
Control of Weeds
Cultivation of soil aids in controlling the weeds before further damage may happen. In the production of fiber crops, weeding is done as soon as weeds are present. Control weeds by practicing the following:
- using clean planting materials
- preparing the soil thoroughly
- observing crop rotation and cover cropping
- using recommended chemicals for weeds
Application of Fertilizers
Comprehensive soil testing and analysis should be done before applying fertilizers. The following are the recommendation in applying fertilizers to different fiber crops.
- Abaca – is a heavy feeder of nitrogen, pottasium, and calcium; it needs less phosphorus than other fiber crops. The application of fertilizers for abaca may differ according to variety. To get the right amount of fertilizer nutrients, detailed soil and tissue analysis is recommended for abaca plantation. The ring method of fertilizer application is done in two equal splits, first on the onset and last towards the end of the rainy season. A farmer may use 75 g of urea per hill three months after planting and 150 g after six months. After nine months, 150 g of urea is applied. On the 12th month, another 150 g is applied.
- Cotton – has extensive requirements for macronutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium). At planting time, all of the phosphate and potassium and at least one-third of the necessary nitrogen should be applied while the remaining nitrogen may be applied two or three months later. Apply two to three bags of urea by side dressing. The next application is done before the flowering stage. The fertilizer to be used for the second stage is two to three bags of muriate of potash. In some situations, complete fertilizer is applied twice or thrice before harvesting.
- Maguey – a single application of fertilizer through basal or side dressing is necessary. If side dressing is desired, do the application when the plants are two to three weeks old. Apply fertilizers with high nitrogen content. Use four bags per hectare.
- Pineapple – apply the following fertilizers with the prescribed amount per hectare: 450-670 kg of nitrogen, 70-125 kg of phosphorus, and 220-460 kg of potassium.
- Ramie – a rate of 250-450 kg of ammonium sulfate is applied depending on soil condition. Other fertilizer used can be animal manure, guano, cut leaves, tops, flowers, pulp, and bagasse, which are applied at different rates. Fertilizers should be applied as top dressing before planting and after each harvest. Just before planting, apply fertilizers in the shallow furrows of the planted cuttings or as top dressing after cutting and weeding the plants.
Pests and Diseases of Fiber Crops and Their Control
- Cotton bug – this pest causes young shoots and leaves to deform and wrinkle. To control these insects, spray any commercial non-selective insecticide.
- Cutworm and armyworm – this worm usually feeds on foliage and leaves of the plants. To control these worms, apply any available commercial contact poison.
- Fruit and stem borer – the young larva of this insects bores its way into the fruit and eats its way around the interior. To control these insects, spray plants with non-selective insecticides.
- Greek leafhopper – this insect destroys the plants by sucking the juice of the leaves. When there is a serious attack, the leaves turn yellow and eventually drop off. Spray the leaves with non-selective insecticides.
- Japanese snail – this snail eats the leaves and foliage of the plants. Spray with any recommended suspension.
- Leaf roller – this chewing insect causes unwanted folding of leaves and stunted growth of plants. To control these insects, use soap solution or any available commercial poison.
- Abaca mosaic – the first symptoms of this disease is the presence of small and yellowish white dots on unopened or newly expanded leaves. Later, mottling will show on the leaves. These leaves then turn brown to reddish brown and eventually dry out. To control this disease, cut and bur the infected plants.
- Dumping off – this disease affects the seedlings. The seedlings will just fall down and rot until they die. To control this, sterilize the soil before planting and observe proper tillage operation to expose the soil directly to sunlight.
- Leaf spot – the manifestation of this disease is the appearance of yellow to brown spots on the leaves. During heavy manifestation, this disease may cause defoliation and decrease in the production of fruits. To control this disease, use available fungicides and observe preventive measures.
Like any other crop, harvesting fiber crops requires proper timing to achieve optimum results, maximum yields, and desirable quality of production. Be patient and observe correct timing in fiber crop production to achieve success in the business.
- Abaca – stalks are ready for harvesting when flowers start to bloom and when flag leaves and narrow leaves appear. Abaca is best harvested from 18 to 20 months after the planting period if seed pieces are used as planting material. Succeeding harvest can be done at an interval of three to four months.
- Cotton – flowering begins eight to eleven weeks after planting. Each individual ball (cotton fruit) will mature in six to eight weeks after blooming. Harvesting of cotton balls is usually four months after cottonseeds are sown. However, harvest sometimes depend on the variety used. the interval of harvesting may be done at least 5-7 days. cotton is already mature and ready fro harvest when it turns brown and starts to crack. Harvesting cotton is usually done during dry weather. Cotton balls are usually handpicked and placed in a dry sack or container. Avoid losses and great damage by preventing the balls from dropping on the ground.
- Maguey – after 5 to 7 months of planting, maguey can be harvested. Harvest first the mature leaves on the base of the plant. As the leaves complete their period of maturity, they can be scheduled for harvesting. Harvesting and retting is usually done during the summer months since the fiber is dries in the open. Generally, ten to thirty leaves are cut from plants cropped once a year, while thirty to eighty leaves are cropped every two years in some places.
- Pineapple – as soon as pineapple plants start to bear fruits, harvesting of pineapple leaves to be used in the production of fiber may start. Like maguey, leaves on the base are harvested first before the upper leaves. Careful selection of the leaves for pineapple fiber must be done to be able to get a very long, strong, and pliable material, which at least a year old. Young leaves produce weak and soft fibers, while overmature ones give coarse, brittle,a nd short fibers.
- Ramie – harvesting ramie can be done after 60 to 90 days or two to three months from the period that it has been planted when brown patches appear at the back of the stem and when most of the panicles (loosely branched flowers clusters) of the leaf clusters turn brown. These changes signal that ramie has reached its maturity and is ready for cutting.
Sources: www.attra.org, www.bfar.gov.ph; Photos: rodima.com.ph, egytex.com, vallartaonline.com, dmtip.gov.tw