Prawn farming the organic way

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For eight years running, Dr. Ponciano Pontiveros (a dentist by profession), has been raising prawns, crabs and bangus in his nine-hectare multi-crop pond in Lubao, Pampanga using the traditional chemical starter feeds and growth enhancers.

But for the past two to three years, he noticed that mortality among his prawns at 1-1/2 to two months had been increasing and no one could explain why this phenomenon was happening to him and practically most prawn farmers in the country.

His catch steadily declined to only five to six coolers (with each cooler weighing 35 kilos) from its previous high of 16 to 18 coolers at its peak. “We are lucky to be harvesting 10 coolers,” Pontiveros said.

The dead prawns had to be immediately removed or they could contaminate the remaining ones in the pond. Those that survived were small, pale in color and did not weigh as much as healthy prawns, he said.

Desperate, he went to the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) in Pampanga and was told that a certain Taiwanese was promoting a bio-fertilizer that is said to be beneficial to all kinds of agricultural products and crops, including aquaculture.

Pontiveros and BFAR Region 3 waited one week for Chong Ken Foo, the exclusive distributor of Exquisite BD in the country, to return from Isabela. “That week of waiting,” he said, “resulted in more deaths in my pond.”

Pontiveros was given a sample of two boxes to try on his pond. He placed it on the pond of his mother’s — five hectares — while he retained his four-hectare pond “untreated.”

“Last January, my mother’s pond yielded long, white and fatter prawns of two coolers at P20,000 while mine also had two coolers worth but they were not as healthy and of good marketable quality as my mom’s,” he said.

After harvesting, Pontiveros was instructed by BFAR last February to dry up the ponds and clean them (by having them tilled so that soil will be allowed to dry up and eliminate predators).

“Chong told me not to do that anymore but to fill up the ponds with water. I followed him and poured a box (of 500 grams) of Exquisite soil conditioner and then re-stocked my pond and my mom’s with fingerlings,” he said.

Came May, Pontiveros was able to harvest 17 coolers (of 35 kilos), more than an eight-fold improvement from the previous two coolers (without treatment of Exquisite). He was able to sell his better quality organic prawns at P18,000 to P19,000 per cooler, which enabled him to buy another necessity, a fiberglass boat. The last time he recalled harvesting 16 coolers was seven years ago, when he first took over the ponds from his mother.

The peak demand for prawns falls on Chinese and Christian New Years and May — the month of fiestas; and Christmas season. “But demand for prawns is almost equal throughout the year,” he said.

He was able to harvest also his organic crabs and organic milkfish, which he cultures in his prawn farms. But his main concern is his prawns while the by-products are used for personal consumption.

“I was expecting to harvest only 10 coolers but I got 16 and for Oct. 1 expect to harvest 20 to 30 coolers because all the ponds are now treated with Exquisite,” Pontiveros said.

Using the Exquisite soil conditioner, Pontiveros was also able to have better water quality — clearer even without aeration; no more floating dead prawns and better harvest. His cost is P2,800 for a box of Exquisite, which is nothing compared to the 16 coolers he last harvested.

“I don’t use starter feeds now; I have no cost for generators to run the filters and aerators and I did not have to spend for land preparation for the pond,” Pontiveros stressed adding that his cost used to be P80,000 to P110,000 for the four hectares but now his cost is P80,000 to P90,000 but with better quality prawns and with no burden of mortality.

He intends to buy electric powered aerators, which he hopes to use for the first five days upon transplanting the fingerling to better improve the beneficial results of Exquisite in the ponds.

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