I spent the first two weeks of December in Guatemala on a Farmer-to-Farmer assignment for Partners of the Americas. The focus of this assignment is to improve nutrition practices for peach and apple production through ANAPDE (National Association of Producers of Deciduous Fruit), the host organization.
We began the assignment by meeting with the directors and staff of ANAPDE at headquarters. We discussed the purposes of ANAPDE and some of the challenges growers face. The staff and growers were energetic, able and invested in improving the industry. We set out next to visit as many growers as possible in the time allotted. I found growers to be already well versed in orchard sanitation, weed control and generally following nutrition guidelines that have been published by Clemson University. We set out to improve on the areas of the nutrition programs that were not efficient.
Most of the assignment was spent visiting farms, holding one-on-one discussions on issues specific to each farm. Zinc and soil deficiencies in the soil are best corrected with foliar (plant) application rather than soil applications. Pruning demonstrations were given at almost every stop. Currently, sulfur is supplied as ammonium sulfate to the soil, which acidifies it. Growers may be better served by incorporating more sulfur in the nutrient spray program, applied directly to the plants.
I made several interesting observations during my time in Guatemala. One must be careful in trying to apply U.S. solutions to issues here. The climate, market, infrastructure, availability of materials, chemicals, equipment and plant material are very different here. That being said, the growers are generally progressive and hard-working, and are clearly implementing several practices that have been published in periodicals by U.S. universities.
I made recommendations to increase pruning practices, monitor soil health, and eliminate pests. Pruning helps more moderately strong shoots grow, which in turn will improve fruit quality. With the adoption of creating at least two entrances for air movement to each tree, we can expect better efficiency in thinning and picking. There will be improved control of bacterial and fungus diseases. The use of more chicken manure and other manures should help slow or stop the loss of organic matter in the soil. It will benefit soil biology and the overall ability of the soil to provide nutrients. The healthiest old orchard, that we visited, received regular applications of manure.
As far as future steps go, another assignment is scheduled for this area to help improve frost control. It was helpful of ANAPDE to investigate the practicality of heaters. This helps the next volunteer be better prepared with useful strategies. The acquisition of later blooming varieties may be significant in helping to deal with frost. Experts from the nursery industry and Clemson recommend looking to Mexico and Brazil for such varieties.
Overall, it was a very productive trip. The special graciousness that the field staff and local growers have been afforded me is humbling. This has been a lesson to be more warm and uplifting towards others.