Agri Dep Ready For El Niño

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The Department of Agriculture is ready to carry out cloud seeding operations to induce rain over areas that have not received a rainfall for at least one week as part of its proactive strategy against a feared protracted dry spell, even as the country’s weather bureau said it’s too early to tell the occurrence of El Niño phenomenon this year.

With the country now within the summer season, Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala said he has instructed all the Department’s regional field offices nationwide to monitor and immediately coordinate with the Bureau of Soils and Management (BSWM) any lack of rainfall for seven to ten days in areas under their respective jurisdiction so the Bureau could mobilize its cloud seeding team in a timely manner.

In fact, as early as mid-March, BSWM has completed 15 sorties equivalent to 17 flying hours across the rain-deprived municipalities of Aglipay, Maddela and Nagtipunan, as well as over Magat Watershed areas. The DA Regional Field Unit II reported said sorties helped induce rain showers and prevented damage on some 4,155 hectares of corn farms around the province, of which 3,490 hectares are in reproductive stage and 665 hectares in vegetative stage.

BSWM is an attached agency of DA tasked to undertake cloud seeding sorties to induce rain above drought-affected farming communities.

“We are taking a proactive stance against the threat of a long dry spell even as PAGASA (Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration) is saying El Niño is not yet in sight,” said Secretary Alcala in an interview on a local television program in General Santos City on Friday.

Apart from cloud seeding operations, the Department also readies other interventions such as the provision of with shallow tube wells and drought-tolerant crop varieties to farmers in any part of the country that will be affected by dry spell episodes.

As part of long-term measures, DA has likewise increased its investments in the repair, rehabilitation and construction of new irrigation systems, as well as in the establishment of small water impounding facilities, to help guarantee agricultural water even during dry months. From 2011 to end-December 2013, the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) said it has generated 128,242 hectares of new areas, restored 90,851 hectares and rehabilitated 453,636 hectares. NIA aims to expand total irrigated lands to 1.9 million hectares by 2016, from current 1.67 million hectares.

PAGASA has yet to issue a formal advisory on the occurrence of El Niño except for precautionary verbal warnings, as quoted in several media reports.

Global weather authorities are likewise cautious at this point in time to declare such a phenomenon happening this year. In its latest monthly advisory released in March, the National Prediction Service of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NPS-NOAA) said there is “50% chance of El Niño developing during the summer or fall (July, August, and September).” NPS-NOAA is expected to issue its April update anytime soon. “ENSO-neutral is expected to continue through the Northern Hemisphere spring 2014, with about a 50% chance of El Niño developing during the summer or fall,” the agency said in its website.

ENSO-neutral refers to those periods when neither El Niño nor La Niña or the “cold” equivalent of El Niño is present. El Niño is a warming of sea-surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific that occurs every four to 12 years.The worst El Niño episode the country ever experienced was in 1997-1998, when more than P8 billion worth of crops was destroyed.

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