Wednesday, February 28Food Security Matters

Okra Farming in the Philippines

Okra (Hibiscus esculentus L.) is a tall growing, warm season and annual vegetable crop. It is a popular and profitable vegetable in the country. The young and tender fruits can be prepared as a salad, boiled, broiled, or fried, and can be mixed in many meat and fish dishes. It is also an important vegetable mix of the famous Ilocano dish, pinakbet. Okra is rich in vitamins A, C, and B complex, protein, calcium, fats, potassium, phosphorus, iron, and carbohydrates.

Aside from its nutritional value, okra is used as traditional medicine for the treatment of stomach ulcers, inflammation of the lungs, diabetes, asthma, colitis, sore throat, and constipation. Nearly half of the fruit is soluble fiber in the form of gums and pectins. Soluble fiber helps lower serum cholesterol and reduces the risk of heart disease. The other half of the fruit is insoluble fiber which helps keep the intestinal tract healthy decreasing the risk of some forms of cancer, especially colorectal cancer. Nearly 10% of the recommended levels of vitamin B6 and folic acid are also present in a half cup of cooked okra.

okra-farming
Okra

Generally, okra is planted for home consumption. However, planting this crop extensively can give a year-round income for a farm family.

In the Philippines, a particular variety of okra, Abelmoschus esculentus, known as Lady’s Finger, is widely cultivated as a warm-season vegetable crop. Ilocos Norte, Pangasinan, and Bicol are the main producing regions of the crop, with about 8,000 hectares planted worldwide. The pods are high in dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

Approximately 50% of okra is composed of soluble fiber, which includes gums and pectin. This type of fiber can help lower cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease. 50% of the fiber in okra is insoluble, which can help keep your intestinal tract healthy and reduce your risk of colorectal cancer. Half a cup of cooked okra also has almost 10% of the daily recommended amount of vitamin B6 and folic acid.

Okra is usually grown for personal consumption, but if grown extensively throughout the year, it can also be a profitable crop for a farm family.

Okra is a versatile and accessible crop, adaptable to many soil types from sandy loam to clay loam. Irrigation and drainage are required for optimal planting times, with the first period being October to December and the second from March to May. This guide will help with land preparation, variety selection, pest/disease management, planting, and harvesting for successful okra cultivation.

Soil and Climatic Requirements

Plant okra seeds in silty to sandy loam soils with pH 5.5-7.0, well-drained, and with adequate organic matter to achieve higher yields. Okra seeds germinate in relatively warm soils and do not germinate below 16°C.

A monthly average temperature of 20-30°C favors the growth, flowering, and fruit development of okra in areas with an adequate water supply and a long, warm growing season.

Okra Varieties

Choose varieties that are adapted to local conditions, resistant to pests and diseases, and preferred in the local market for better profit. To guide you in choosing your variety, refer to the table below:

okra-varieties

Smooth green okra and native varieties (Diwata) are the two most popular varieties of okra. Consumers prefer smooth green because of its deep green appearance, while retailers prefer native varieties with yellowish-white fruits since they do not appear wilted even when kept for several days. After 45 days of emergence, both varieties mature. For export, the Green Emerald variety is popular. This variety is about 1.5 m tall and has 18 to 20 cm long slightly ridged pods.

Land Preparation

To ensure the best yield, it’s essential to properly prepare the field. This begins with broadcasting organic fertilizer or compost (1kg/m2) followed by plowing and harrowing alternately 2-3 times at one-week intervals. Plow at a depth of 15-20 cm for better root penetration, then harrow every time afterward to achieve a fine and level soil surface. Doing so will improve soil aeration and also positively influence root formation. Upon completing the harrowing process, furrows should be set or plots created 75 cm wide with 100 cm between rows.

Rice hulls and compost should be liberally incorporated into clay soils.

Okra Farming Fertilizer Application

It is necessary to apply fertilizers based on a soil analysis to determine the right kind and amount of fertilizers to use.  However, in the absence of soil analysis, follow the following recommendations:

  • Apply 2-3 bags of complete fertilizer (14-14-14) and 20 bags of organic fertilizer per hectare. Apply the fertilizer within the furrows and cover them with fine soil before planting.
  • Side-dress urea (46-0-0) 30 days after planting (DAP) at a rate of 10 grams or one (1) tbsp per hill.

Material inputs and fertilizer

how to plant okra

Okra Planting

Okra is best planted directly in the field with 5 kg of seeds required for each hectare. Before this, farmers should soak the seeds overnight for uniform germination and then press lightly, 2-3 per hill at 30 cm distance, 2-5 cm deep into the slightly moist soil. This approach will not only help achieve deeper root penetration but also inhibit the early emergence of weeds.

The common practice is planting the seeds before irrigating the field, which causes weed seeds to germinate faster than okra seeds, which results in more labor input due to weeding. Plant the seeds in raised beds or at the ridge of furrows during the rainy season to prevent waterlogging in case of flush floods.

Three (3) days after emergence (DAE), replant missing hills.

Watering and Irrigation

Depending on the soil moisture, season, and soil type, irrigation is a limiting factor in crop production. Irrigate or water your plants regularly. When you plant your seeds, thin them down to two (2) seedlings per hill 15 days after planting. Remove stunted and sickly seedlings and leave only the healthy ones behind.

Weeding and Cultivation

At 15 and 42 days after emergence, cultivate and hill-up by hand-hoeing in between furrows to minimize the growth of weeds. Weeding is especially important during the early growth stage. To prevent disturbing the roots, cultivate 10 cm away from their bases. After cultivation, uproot any remaining weeds (spot weeds) that were missed.

Pests Management

The profuse growth of foliage during the wet season makes okra tolerant to most insect pests, but diseases are common due to the wet-warm environment. To ensure that the plants are free from pests, it is necessary to observe the field.

Cotton stainers and stink bugs are the most important pests of okra, but leafhoppers are the most damaging during summer and second crops.

Cercospora blight, powdery mildew, fruit rot, and root-knot nematode are the most serious fungal diseases.

Practice field sanitation, plant-resistant varieties, and rotate crops to prevent pest infestations. As a last resort, use pesticides according to the manufacturer’s directions.

(Optional) Ratooning

An old plant is ratooned if the stems are cut so that new shoots will emerge. Okra can be ratooned to reduce production costs. Cut the stems after harvesting leaving about one foot from the ground. Use a plow to cultivate between rows. Side-dress with urea 10 grams per hill to promote shoot growth. Hilling-up is necessary to ensure the fertilizer is covered. Irrigate through the furrows in the absence of sufficient moisture.

Operations related to harvesting and post-harvest

It takes 40 to 75 days for okra to flower. It takes 5-10 days to harvest immature okra pods about 3 to 4 inches long (they are tender, snappy, and young). Harvest only immature pods that are 3 to 4 inches long. You should only consume immature fruits.

The fruits should be harvested every day or every 2-3 days at a time. Harvest in the morning or late afternoon to maintain freshness.

A hectare of okra production yields about 18 to 25 MT of marketable fruits per hectare. To facilitate harvesting and control diseases, prune all leaves below the lowest fruit at regular intervals.

High-quality produce is more expensive on the market. Sort and discard malformed and diseased fruits. To prevent bruising and to keep the fruits fresh, pack them in woven baskets, boxes, or wooden crates lined with banana leaves or old newspapers. To prevent mold from developing on the packaged fruits, puncture 4-5 small holes in each plastic bag to prevent moisture from getting in.

It is recommended to store pods/fruits in large quantities at a temperature of 10 degrees Celsius and relative humidity of 90-95% to prevent wilting, and then they will be graded according to market standards and packed in plastic crates or cardboard trays covered in plastic film.

The severely damaged fruits can be composted or fermented after harvest.

okra-cost-and-return-analysis-scaled

You may also the okra production guide in PDF here from the Department of Agriculture

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