Tilapia king of Nueva Ecija
By: Lito R.Cruz
TEN YEARS AGO, farmer businessman Ma gno Velayo of Gapan tried his hand in fish farming. He had money to invest and unbounded enthusiasm. Know-how in fish culture he had none at all. Consequently, the business failed and lost P 60,000.
Fortunately, he had other sources of income. Velayo,who only reached the sixth grade but who has risen to become one of Gapan’s most prominent and affluent residents, has large rice farms in several barrios has his family owns a rice mill.
Two years ago, enticed by a priest-fishfarmer in a neighboring town, he decided to raise tilapia again. This time, he sought advice of fisheries experts at the Central Luzon State University in Muñoz.
He succeeded far beyond his – snd everybody’s – expectations. Today, the 52-year –old fishfarmer bids fair to become the nation’s crowned “tilapia king.” In Nueva Ecija, he has no rival.
“Velayo is the only fishfarmer I know in the country who has earned P 104.500 in eight months from Tilapia nilotica,which he cultures in 20 hectares of fresh water ponds,” says Rafael D. Guerrero, the associate professor and dean of the Central Luzon State University’s college of inland fisheries. It’s a very impressive achievement.”
Guerrero has been advising Velayo and monitoring his fishfarming operations for some time now. Because of the tie-up, Velayo’s tilapia farms at times serve as CLSU extension ponds. Fisheries students of the university periodically visit the ponds to observe and undergo practical training.
The ponds are located in three Gapan barrios. Most of these – with the total of area of 15 hectares – are in Macabaclay-Velcar. The fishers are in Mahipung Bungo, with 15 hectares; and in Pambuan, with 15 hectares.
The Pambuan pond is relatively small because it was not originally designed for tilapia raising. It is primarily a storage pond for irrigation water for Velayo’s ricefields in the area.
Easily the most impressive is the Macabalcay-Velcar farm.
There’s something incongruous about it when viewed from a distance. It doesn’t fit the overall scenery. It is elevated, irregularly contoured, and sticks out like a sore thumb from the uniform flatness of the surrounding rice fields. Brownish patches of elephant grass at its fringes give it an unkempt look. It contrasts sharply with the neat geometrical patterns of the green rice fields below.
However, it is not a “hill”; it’s only six or seven meters higher than the fields around it. Conventional wisdom would suggest that, because of its topography, it would make a good tree farm or a fruit orchard.
But Velayo chose to be unconventional and converted it into a fish farm. A stream at the foot of the “hill” assures him of fresh supply all year round.
He built his ponds by widening and deepening the area’s natural deeps and hollows with a bulldozer and filling these with water pumped from the stream. To facilitate access to the ponds, he constructed a road running through the property. The road is wide enough for the vehicles that bring the tilapia harvest to the Gapan market.
Velayo has spent more than P 1 million to develop this place, but the work is far from finished. In fact, it still has a raw look because of recent excavations. Velayo plans to make the farm life a mini park by the time he’s through with it. Portions not utilized as ponds are planted to bananas, mango and other fruit trees.
“When I first started raising tilapia two years ago,” he recalls, “I never thought I’d wind up as an intensive producer. In fact, I only began with a hectare-sized pond which I stocked with 10,000 fingerlings. My plan then was to raise just enough tilapia for my family and friends. Para pampiknik lang at saka pamigay.”
But the fish multiplied so rapidly that he found himself selling the bulk of harvests at the Gapan market. So prolific were the fish that, even when he built more ponds and expanded his operations, he never had to buy seeding materials again. All the fish he now grows in his ponds came from that original stock.
Realizing the money-making potential of tilapia, he thought of building more ponds, but hesitated, scale production. Then he met Guerrero and other CLSU people who encourage and promised him assistance. That made up his mind.
VELAYO says that he has learned a great deal from the experts and from experience.
“When I was starting,” he says, “I followed their instructions to the letter. But today, I’m using some techniques that I’ve developed myself. I don’t mean to boast, but I think I know I can teach the experts a thing or two about tilapia culture.”
To prepare a vacant hectare-sized pond for fresh stocking, Velayo first pumps just enough water into it to cover the lowest portions of the pond bottom at a depth of about 15 centimeters. Then he spreads 20 bags of chicken manure and one bag of 16-20-0 fertilizer on the submerged portions to induce lumot growth.
The faster the manure decays, the faster the lumot will grow. “its important not to put too much water into the pond at this stage.” he explains. “When there’s too much water, manure takes longer time to decay.”
About 20 days after manure and fertilizer application, the pond water comes greenish, indicating the growth of lumot and planktonic organisms. More water is then pumped into the pond, starting at a depth of one meter, and fingerlings are stocked to the pond.
“Make sure the water is clear,” he warns. “If you stock in cloudy or muddy water, the fish will die or will not grow.”
As the fingerlings grow bigger, the water depth is increased gradually up to a depth of four meters.
At first, following the advice of CLSU people, Velayo stocked his ponds at the rate of 10,000 fingerlings per hectare. These survived and grew well.vin subsequent croppings, he increased the rate to 15,000, then 20,000, and still got excellent results. Today, he has a trial pond that he recently stocked with 30,000 fingerlings.
To control fish population and save the crop from stunting due to overcrowding, he adds predator fishes like mudfish which feed on tilapia fry. For every 5,000 tilapia he puts in 20 mudfish.
Lately, however, he no longer puts predators or “population controllers” into some of his ponds. He simply collects new fry transfers these to a nursery pond. The excess fry provide him with a constant supply of seeding materials; he sells some and gives others away to friends.
He also stock his ponds with scavenger fishes like carp, burasi and Imelda at the rate of 2,000 to 3,000 per hectare to minimize water pollution. The scavengers eat waste matter and food not consumed by the tilapia.
To ensure that his tilapia properly nourished, he supplemented the pond’s natural food supply with chicken manure and rice bran. He feeds the fish twice daily, increasing the amount of 15-day intervals.
The initial feed rate per pond, one bag of manure and one-half sack of rice bran, once in the morning and again in the afternoon.
Every 15 days up to harvest time four months later, he increases the amount of manure by one bag. For instance, from the 16th to 30th day, the morning and afternoon ration goes up to two bags of manure; from the 31st to the 45th day, three bags; and so on. But the rice bran ration remains at one-half sack per feeding.
“I had an American visitor, a stocking rate was too high,” Velayo says. “He said the fish would not grow at such densities. But my tilapia then and now not only grow; they are also healthy and fat because of my feeding rate.”
He doesn’t change the pond water during the entire culture period. In fact, he usually uses the same water for the next crop. “Why should I throw it away?” he asks. “The original water is rich in natural food nutrients. “ May lumot na .And it’s still clean because of the scavengers that eat the pollutants in it. I maintain its freshness whenever I replace the water lost through evaporation.”
He recycles or circulates water in the ponds. When he wants to harvest from one pond, he pumps the water in it and the next pond, then pumps the water back again after the harvest. Because he seldom harvests all of the crop, he rarely drained the pond completely.
Tilapia matures in four months. If he wants to, he can raise three crops a year in each pond. But he averages only two crops per pond per year because of his prolonged harvesting methods.
“ If he stock a pond the first week of January, for instance,” he says, “then I can harvest the first week of May. But I don’t harvest a crop all at once; I use the whole month to harvest fish gradually at regular intervals.”
Because he doesn’t stock his ponds simultaneously, the tilapia in his farms are at various stages of growth. At any given time, he has tilapia ready rof harvest. And because of staggered harvesting he can provide the market in Gapan with fish daily throughout the year.
Every day, he sells 60 to 200 kilograms of tilapia at the Gapan market, which also supplies Cabanatuan City and many neighboring towns. He regulates the volume of fish he sells according to the demand and the fluctuation in prices. Since the ex-pond price of tilapia is P 360 to P 1,200 daily.
Until recently, he was selling as much as 300 kilograms of fish every day. “ I got carried away then,” he says ruefully. “The market snapped up all the tilapia I could provide, and I harvested a great deal of fish all at once. As a result, I’m now short of fry because I caught and I sold many potential spawners.”
WITH the help of CLSU people, Velayo keeps constant and accurate track of his tilapia operations. Besides the technical aspects, he knows his expenditures and earnings to the last centavo.
As with any fish farming business, initial investments in tilapia raising tend to be high. It cost him P 25,000 to construct each hectare-sized pond, or a total of P 500,000 for his 20 hectares. All development costs for his three farms now total more than P 1 million.
But since the farms are nearly fully developed, his operating costs have gone down and his profit margins are widening.
His gross income per pond per cropping season comes to P 17,000 to p 20,000. The amount represent the total sales from the tilapia at the scavenger and predator fish.
The expenses per pond for the same period run to P 7,000 at most. Most of this amount is spent on labor, feed, fertilizer and pump fuel.
From each pond, therefore Velayo earns a net income of P10,000 to P 13,000.
(Based on these figures, Guerrero’s rather low estimates at the beginning of this article appear have been made when Velayo’s farms were not yet at their productive peak.)
Today, he is also looking for the prospects of fingerling production. In 1979, he sold more than 40,000 fingerlings at 12.5 centavo each.
He recently stocked one of his ponds with 30,000 fingerlings which he plans to use as breed. He was encouraged by Guerrero who told him that many farmers want to buy tilapia fingerlings the hundreds of thousands to things go well, he expects to harvest at least 500,000 fingerlings from this pilot pond.
“Even if I net only 10 centavo each from these fingerlings,” says, “I’ll still be ahead of P 50,000.”
Velayo is sharing his knowledge in tilapia farming with others. He entices a number of his team mates to go into the same business telling them about the more making potentials of the crop.
“The market is big enough all of us,” he tells them. “It absorbs all we can produce. If Nueva Ecija gets too small for us, they can supply the fish needs of some provinces.”
He does more than encourages them. To those who would enter in tilapia raising, he has a starting offer to help them get a heading. He would provide them with fingerlings at very low prices, per even for free in some cases, and them use his fish stalls at the Gapan public market as outlets for produce.