Costa Rica

Tropical Plant Pathology Diagnostics, Summer 2008

I had the opportunity to take an intensive graduate course in Costa Rica on tropical plant disease diagnostics. Faculty from the local universities guided us through diverse terrain and cropping systems to see first-hand the many plant disease problems encountered in tropical agriculture and natural ecosystems. The class saw a variety of unique management strategies that have been developed for the local needs and conditions encountered in Costa Rica.

Production techniques are explained at a papaya research farm south of San Jose.

A disease rating system for black Sigatoka on banana allows farmers to use prescriptive fungicide applications rather than calender spraying. Epidemiology is extremely important in banana production, where diseases devastate entire crops and growers can spend 20% of there production costs on fungicides alone.

Erosion control is an emerging issue in the mountainous vegetable farms found throughout Costa Rica. Many opportunities exist for soil conservation on these farms such as buffer hedgerows rotation covercrops, intercropping and cultivating according to local topography. Availability of more precision agriculture technology could possibly help with some of these cultivation issues but many advances could be made with existing technology and strategic planning.

Coffee is a major export in Costa Rica. Coffee rust, the pathogen credited with turning the English into tea drinkers, made it to Central America in the 1990s. Researchers are exploring various cultural techniques to reduce fungal pathogens on coffee land.

Frosty pod and black rot on cacao pods. Some members in my lab have developed endophyte biocontrols for frosty pod and witches' broom diseases. Cacao production is largely low input, and biocontrols could be very extremely useful for growers.

We were able to see Costa Rican agriculture at many scales. The sophisticated management of a large scale ornamental greenhouse stood in contrast with a small subsistence farm.

Pest management in the tropics is even more important because of the lack of a winterkill period. Techniques are often sporadic and can be dangerous in the case of this insecticide being applied with little protection.