After all, Salnaong is just 800 meters above sea level while the summer capital is entrenched at 1,524 masl amid the Cordillera mountain range, a perfect setting for the temperate-loving flowers, vegetables and fruits like strawberries.
Baguio and Benguet province's 18-degree Celsius weather on a given day essentially breathes life to its legendary strawberry fields. In fact, various agricultural studies have mainly attributed the success of the area’s strawberry farming to its year-round temperate condition.
But local agricultural researchers here declared they have found something special in Salnaong’s hilly landscape that may later on rival Baguio and Benguet’s famed strawberries.
“Baguio’s claim to fame for its big and luscious strawberries is no longer an exclusive matter because we have actually produced better quality strawberries here,” said an ecstatic Dominic Dice, agro-forestry researcher of a newly-established strawberry research station in Sitio Salnaong.
The research station, a community project of mining firm Sagittarius Mines, Inc. (SMI), was established last year to help find new viable farm crops for local farmers who have been depending for decades on the seasonal corn farming for livelihood.
The company initially developed a 25×15-meter field trial site in early 2006 for two trial varieties of strawberries – Bukod, which is mainly planted in Benguet and Marilog in Davao City, and Nyoho, a Japanese variety.
With a combined initial 150 heels of trial plants, Dice said they launched field trials covering two regular seasons – the wet and dry.
“The results were very encouraging because strawberries traditionally grow and produce better in higher landscapes. Salnaong is not as high as Baguio and Benguet but our produce is quite the same in terms of size and quality,” Dice said.
Dice attributed their successful field trials to the area’s still unexploited environment, the rich soil and the use of organic farming systems.
He said Baguio and Benguet may have the best climate but its overall environment is way behind in terms quality compared with Salnaong.
“We basically have the cleaner air and rivers or water systems,” Dice said.
The results of the soil analysis they conducted in the area have yet to be released but he cited that earlier tests showed that the area’s volcanic soil may have contributed to the good growth of the strawberries.
During the entire duration of the field trials, Dice said they mainly depended on processed organic materials for fertilizers and applied the integrated pest management methods.
“We saw this as an opportunity for the women, especially those staying in their homes most of the time, because the systems involved in growing strawberries are very simple. It’s just like taking care your favorite garden plant. And the best part is that, once it reaches the fruiting stage, you can harvest the fruits every two days,” he added.
With the success of the field trials, SMI management is now planning the massive planting and production of strawberries in Salnaong and the nearby villages.
Dr. Rolando Doria, SMI project coordinator, said they are looking at making the high-value crop as an alternative livelihood of local residents, especially the women.
“Our plan is to transfer the technology of raising these strawberries to the communities and eventually develop it into a backyard industry,” he said.
Doria said their strawberry research stations are now starting to produce the planting materials for distribution to the communities that are covered by the company’s proposed copper and gold mining project.
SMI has been exploring world-class mineral deposits in the towns of Tampakan in South Cotabato, Columbio in Sultan and Kiblawan in Davao del Sur.
A pre-feasibility study completed by the company in September 2006 showed the project’s potential resource at two billion tons, containing 11.6 million tons of copper and 14.6 million ounces of gold at a 0.3 percent copper cut-off grade.