After the success of the 1st Sweet Sorghum Business Summit and Plantation Showcase held in June 2011, the Department of Agriculture – Bureau of Agricultural Research (DA-BAR) and the Biofuels Research Team led by Professor Rex B. Demafelis of the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) together with Dr. Heraldo L. Layaoen of the Mariano Marcos State University (MMSU), went back to the drawing board to draw up the plans and strategies needed for the targeted planting schedule of sweet sorghum in the province of Negros.
The business summit held in Bacolod City successfully introduced to the participants the potentials of sweet sorghum as a competitive feedstock for bioethanol production and its various uses for the agriculture sector and the industry. Series of technical discussions and plantation tours shaped the said summit. The involvement of local ethanol investors, farmers, ethanol distillers and other government institutions is indicative of strong partnership between the government and the private sector in boosting the bioethanol industry in the Philippines. The summit was a joint undertaking of DA-BAR and UPLB.
To keep track of the agreements made during the business summit, a meeting and workshop was again ensued to the BAR commissioned experts on sweet sorghum and the local government unit (LGU) of Northern Negros with the hope of establishing a processing plant.
Commercialization and plantation of sweet sorghum
A meeting/workshop was set to discuss the planting schedule of sweet sorghum in Negros in collaboration with LGU and local farmers. Another agenda was to discuss the putting up a processing plant for ethanol production in partnership with the San Carlos Bioenergy Inc. (SCBI).
Prof. Demafelis, being the focal person, led the meeting and provided the rationale and workshop mechanics. He acknowledged the involvement of Dr. Layaoen as one of the project leaders. Dr. Layaoen is also involved in the biofuels program of BAR.
Prof. Demafelis said that the meeting calls for the identification of the needed logistical requirements; discussion on the expected problems to be encountered during the time of implementation and finding doable means to address them.
Mr. Jerelu T. Ganancial, city agriculturist of Sagay, Negros Occidental, presented an overview of the Northern Negros Agro – Industry Economic Zone, which is located within the city, and showed the on-going structural developments in the area like the construction of a Triple A Slaughter House, Water Disposal Facilities and the 50-hectare napier grass, 35-hectare sugarcane and 2.5 hectare sweet sorghum plantations. Mr. Ganancial reported the promising results of the sweet sorghum production trials in Sagay city. He said that the agro-climatic and physio-chemical properties of soil in Sagay are suitable for the requirements of the plants.
Meanwhile, Mr. Nelson Aquino of the Negros Biochem Corporation presented the results of the sweet sorghum cultural management and practices in Bago City, Negros Occidental while Dr. Cecilia B. Pascual of the Institute of Plant Breeding (IPB), UPLB reported on the assessment and control of pest and diseases in the sweet sorghum plantations in Negros Occidental. Dr. Pascual, in her presentation, identified the common pests and diseases she discovered in the sweet sorghum plantations in Sagay, Bago, Binalbagan and San Carlos Cities and enumerated the recommended control measures.
Sweet sorghum for bioethanol processing
When the Biofuels Act of 2006 was enacted into law, BAR, being the research arm of the DA has viewed the law as an opportunity to explore other potential feedstocks that would complement the production of sugarcane for ethanol production. Hence, BAR in collaboration with the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) jointly explored the potential of sweet sorghum as an alternative feedstock for bioethnol production. Since then, BAR has conducted series of plantation trials in selected regions in the country.
Over the years, ongoing researches on sweet sorghum trials have shown and yielded positive results and indicated further that the crop is viable and a competitive complementary feedstock to sugarcane.
With this development, the biofuels program of BAR shifted its gear and directed its attention to the production of sweet sorghum syrup needed for ethanol production. Specific to this undertaking were tapping experts to conduct pre-planting seminar to the concerned LGU’s focusing on the effective planting and other cultural management for sweet sorghum. The commissioned experts will conduct on-site assessment visits to the identified potential plantation areas in the northern and southern parts of Negros.
With the biofuels research team on board, extending its technical support, cooperation of the LGU, and funding assistance from BAR- promoting the potentials of sweet sorghum as a viable and alternative source for ethanol production is on the go.
Exploratory talks between the government through the initative of DA-BAR and the San Carlos Bioenergy, Inc. are beginning to shape the prospect of a commercial scale sweet sorghum-based ethanol production. This collaborative endeavor may soon be realized in the coming years. The San Carlos Bioenergy, Inc. (SCBI) is the first multi-feedstock bioethanol and co-generation facility in the country.
The introduction of sweet sorghum which contains high amounts of reducing sugars and considered as a non crystallizing juice will make it a dedicated crop for bioethanol production and ensure that sugarcane will used for sugar production and not divert its volume to produce the much needed supply of bioethanol in the country. (Patrick Raymund A. Lesaca/DA-BAR)