From teacher to farmer (updated with slideshow)

One of the first students I met when I arrived at Nakorn Si Thammarat Teachers’ College in 1968 was Chamnong Srithara. Now, retired from the teaching profession, Chamnong has taken up a new career. Here is his story. (Go to the bottom for a video slideshow.)

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Note: Newly updated video slideshow appears at the end

One of the first students I met when I arrived at Nakorn Si Thammarat Teachers’ College as a US Peace Corps Teacher in 1968 was Chamnong Srithara. An enthusiastic English learner, he had lived with the previous volunteer and he wanted to stay on with me. He proved to be a very valuable assistant throughout our years together, helping me adjust to a very different cultural environment and generally making life much easier. Here is his story since his graduation.

This was first published in June, 2012. It is the kind of story you can write for us if you want to.

From teacher to farmer: the story of Srithara Farm

By Chamnong Srithara

Chamnong stands at the entrance to his farm.

I am sixty-five years old with a bachelors degree from Nakhon Si Thammarat Teacher’s College. After graduation I started teaching junior high students at Pathiu Wittaya School in Pathiu District, Chumphon.  I worked there for three years and was transferred to the Provincial Educational Office. My last job was teaching at the biggest and best-known school in Chumphon, named Sriyapai. I was very proud of this because it was the school from which I graduated.

An AFS Visiting Teachers’ Program brought Chamnong to my home state of Minnesota, allowing him to visit my home in Minnesota in 1984.

I was selected by the American Field Service (AFS) Thailand to take part in the AFS Visiting Teachers’ Program at South West Secondary School, Minneapolis, Minnesota from December 1983 to July 1984.  There, I took more than twenty hours of computer courses provided by the Minneapolis Public School system, an invaluable experience which led me to set up a computer system at my Thai school in 1989. 

I spent almost twenty years teaching basic computer and planning for the school’s hardware and software. I also helped bring internet access to the school which grew from a dial up connection for very few classes to a broadband connection for all classes.

Before I retired from my job, my father provided me with two plots of land and recommended that I grow oil palm. That was the origin of Srithara Farm.

Srithara Farm is located in Village number 8 Thambon Thakham, Thasae District about 15 kilometers from the City of Chumphon. The property of 12 rai, or about 4.7 acres, passed to my ownership when my father died in 2011. The main crop is oil palm.

A view of the two farms from Google Earth. (Inset) A Google street view of the entrance to the Saphan Hok farm from the Petchakasem Highway.


 
There are two plots of oil palms. The first is called Nai naa Oil Palm Farm because it was originally an old paddy field and the second one is named Sapan Hok Oil Palm Farm because it is situated next to the Sixth Bridge of the Petchakasem  Highway.

My aim is to earn some extra money to supplement my pension for food, clothing and other necessities, and simply to work for pleasure. I began as a novice grower with 300 palm trees in 2005.
 
Oil palm is an excellent crop to grow and easy to care for. We need to fertilise only three times a year, prune the fronds twice a year and weed every three months. The fertiliser must contain nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus magnesium and boron.

Fertilising (left) and manual cutting. Nowadays there are also motorised cutters.



Palm seedlings will bear fruit after two years if they are properly cared for.  If you can carry out good maintenance and fertilise properly, you can harvest palm fruit twice a month. You don’t need to worry about the heat or rain during your harvest as you would with a rubber plantation. Transport is also convenient because trucks or pickups from the milling company or contractors come to load your fresh fruit bunches and loose fruit from your plots if you have good paths to get in and out. 

If you have a good road to the oil palm trees, millers or contractors will pick up your fruit right on site.


 
My slogan is “harvesting palm fruit in the morning and transferring school fees to my son in the afternoon.“

Actually, it’s not quite that easy, especially in the first year where expenses are high for land preparation and seedlings. Sleep, too, is difficult to get at that time because young plants are attacked by mice and insects and sometimes we even need to replant them.

Palm tree, fruit bunches, fronds and (inset) loose fruit

For experienced planters, however, who are skilled in digging, weeding, fertilising, and harvesting, palm farming can be quite profitable, especially if they own their own trucks.

Even though I am mostly an amateur planter, business skills are essential. I, for example, need to spend about 10,000 baht to buy 10 bags of good chemical nutrients for my 300 palms every four months, or 30,000 baht per year. Frond pruning, 10 baht for each tree twice a year, costs about 6,000 baht. Weeding is another 2,000 baht per time or 6,000 baht a year. Harvesting does not cost too much because there are standard prices of cutting. We pay workers 500 baht per ton and include lunch – not always the case with other farmers. 

The nai naa farm.

The big problem for oil palm growers is that the oil palm price fluctuates. If the palm price is 5 baht a kilo, I can make 240,000 baht from my 48 tons, with a profit of about 186,000 baht.

From January 2012 to May 2012 the price averaged  well above that, reaching 5.9 baht a kilo, but the third week of this month, the price dropped down to 4.5 baht. October 2011 was the worst I have seen it, when the price dropped to 3.8 baht per kilo. I think if the average price is about 5 baht per kilo, small farm planters like myself are happy.

You can get in touch with Chamnong through email: csrithara@hotmail.com  or through his Facebook page http://facebook.com/csrithara  He'll appreciate it. You can also take a Google Earth visit to his farm here:

Here is a video slideshow that Chamnong produced which uses the same text and audio. It is quite nice and includes many new photos.

Related search: Srithara farm, Chamnong Srithara, oil palm farming, Chumphon

About the author

columnist
Writer: Terry Fredrickson
Position: Education Marketing and Support Manager