By John Mark Escandor
OCAMPO, Camarines Sur (11-April-2013/PNA) – Leonardo Libreja, 34, defied beliefs when he successfully propagated strawberry in the lowland of this town, thriving in hot climate and bearing fruits even sweeter than those found in the Mountain Province.
Commonly, it has always been a belief here that plants thriving in cold climate like strawberry, apple and tangerine will not thrive in tropical clime like in this town northeast of Naga City.
With a green thumb and passion for farming, the agribusiness-graduate Libreja unlocked the secrets of raising strawberry in the yard through experimentation.
Using Hawaiian variety of strawberry that he had brought here after his training in farming at the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources at University of Hawaii Minoa from 2003-2005, it took him seven years to perfect acclimatization of the breed that he is now starting to mass produce.
Libreja explained that acclimatization is the process by which the plant is gradually made to adjust with the weather until it becomes used to it.
He narrated that what he did was to expose the strawberry plant to the heat of the sun in varying duration until he was able to create shoots that withstands and thrives under the heat of the sun.
Libreja said that from there, he started producing strawberry plant resistant to the heat of the sun, which sells to farms in Camarines Sur and Albay.
Clad in shorts, old shirts and flip-flops, this passionate farmer revealed he grew in the farm and has loved cultivating crops and enjoyed experimenting since he was a kid.
After finishing agribusiness at the Camarines Sur State Agricultural College (now Central Bicol State University of Agriculture) in 2001, he told his father he would concentrate on farming.
Within two years, he was able to transform their farm into an integrated system complete with aquaculture production, innovative propagation of vegetables on bamboo trays that touched the pond water and planting ornamental plants to complete the classic “bahay kubo” concept that won him the most outstanding young farmer in Bicol.
Through the initiative of the Department of Agriculture (DA), Libreja was granted an 18-month training in farming in Hawaii where he learned different skills in propagating crops and ornamental plants.
He said he learned hydroponic farming, use of drip irrigation and several other techniques in raising plants scientifically.
At the end of the training, he made sure to obtain seedlings of Hawaiian strawberry, green apple, grapes and tangerine which he brought to the Philippines from Hawaii with help from the DA.
Excited about proving he could raise plants thriving in a different climate, Libreja planted green apple and tangerine in his farm in Barangay Binit in this town that, he said, survived and are now thriving.
But his most important discovery and creation is his success in propagating strawberry, with commercial production of fruit-bearing plants that has provided him steady income since December last year.
Libreja sells for P300 per ready-to-bear-fruit strawberry plant planted on plastic bags as he foresees steady income through the production of heat-resistant strawberry plant that once believed only thrives in cool climate.
He disclosed that he will also branch out to propagating ready-to-bear-fruit grapes in plastic bags and other plants like the herb-like plant stevia, whose leaves are sweeter than sugarcane.
Indeed, the stevia plant Libreja cultivates in his small garden store along the highway has a distinctive sweet taste when chewed.
He said the garden store where he cultivates strawberry will be computerized within this year, that is, he will install electronic system to control and monitor irrigation of his plants.
Libreja envisions a garden store where the plants he will sell differ from the other products sold like grafter roses with different colors in each branch or one citrus tree with different branches bearing different fruits.
He said he has mastered grafting that 98 percent of his creations survive and thrive.
Libreja sees himself as the sole distributor of heat-resistant strawberry seedlings when more farms adopt his crop for wider commercial uses. (PNA)