Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Evaluation of Onion Growing Practices in Guatemala

F2F Volunteer Deron Beck (far right) with the rest of the Sacapulas, Guatemala Team

Take a look at the colorful picture to the right. What does it remind you of? A beautiful tapestry? A new clothing pattern? It is actually the new onion planting strategy for Sacapulas, Guatemala. The colorful spaces and checkerboards are different growth trials. This color coded organizational chart is part of a procedure of crop rotation to find the best way to grow the onions. At the bottom is a space for a rotation demo.

Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer Deron Beck designed this system as a way to encourage new practices by comparing them with traditional practices. Deron knew that farmers are often reluctant to adopting new practices so by developing a system for them to compare results, he felt they would be willing to make changes and eventually maximize their production of onions.

In Guatemala, and other countries around the world, onion growing practices are not standardized. Deron believes that a more standardized practice for irrigation, land planning, crop rotation, and fertilizer usage will not just yield better products in the short team, but will improve the sustainability of the land for future generations.

Onions play an important role in the Guatemalan agricultural sector. Currently, onion production in Guatemala is 52 metric tons per hectare. The genetic potential of many varieties being cultivated in the region, however, indicate that production can reach 78 metric tons per hectare. Lower production can be attributed to several factors, including poor soil fertility and limited smallholder farmer knowledge of proper onion fertilization. Like other crops, there are best methods to maximizing productive efficiency in the local environment, and F2F volunteers can help share best practices.

The onion industry in Sacapulas, Quiche has grown substantially over the past 30 years. Larger growers in Sacapulas use experienced planting crews to plant the onion transplants.  They prepare beds about 5 feet wide and crews plant 10-14 plants across the bed in single rows at a time. The crew pokes holes in the beds using a stick or metal tool. After transplanted, the white onions can mature in 90 days in the lower regions, whereas they may take 110 day in the higher regions.
Storage areas are especially important in the highlands since growers are further from the markets. The added storage also allows growers to supply onions to the market through the rainy season (mid-May - Nov). One interesting practice comes from the Mayan growers who use pine needles to cover onions to reduce rot. Deron hypothesizes that the acidic pine needle reduces rotting organisms and absorbs moisture from the outer bulb of the onion. This process greatly improves product quality.

Planting Method of Mayan Grower. 
As part of his F2F assignment, Deron made a number of recommendations for onion producers in Sacapulas. Many of these recommendations could be applied to producers in other regions as well. These recommendations include:

1) Implement sustainable farming practices that will reduce erosion and improve soil tilth
2) Improve fertility practices and refine current recommendations for clay soil types found in Sacapulas
3) Improve knowledge of water usage and crop need by using soil moisture monitors 
4) Experiment with planting configurations that will allow for easier cultivation.
5) Establish variety trials and measure marketable yield at the end of the season to best identify cultivars best suited for the grower’s soil and elevation.
6) Identify 1 grower in each of the 4 of the municipalities in Sacapulas for field demonstrations.

These are just a few of Deron's ideas but if producers can implement some of these, they can improve their farming practices, protect against rain and erosion on the hillsides where many of them plant, and improve their income!

Onion storage

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