Field Exercises and Organic Farm Management

Posted: October 4, 2013

During the last two weeks, students have already conducted two field exercises in Monteverde and at Poas Volcano National Park. Field exercises are small, hands-on research projects that often produce important information for our stakeholders.

This week started with a field exercise on monitoring the condition of our own mango and orange orchards. One requirement for maintaining our Rainforest Alliance certification as a sustainable farm is implementing a management plan which includes monitoring “pests and diseases.” Monitoring and prevention are critical steps of integrated pest management, if you want to reduce—or even better, eliminate—agrochemical use, as we are doing here at the Center for Sustainable Development Studies.

I am grateful to have the opportunity to work on this challenge with the help of a large, motivated group of students. This morning we turned literally hundreds of leaves, branches, and fruits to discover a huge variety of insects and other organisms that seem to enjoy our organic mangos and oranges just as much as we do… Of course it would be far “easier” to spray agrochemicals on them without taking a second look, but then we would lose the opportunity to actually practice sustainable farming on our own finca (not to talk about consequences for the environment or human health).

Organic farming is hard work, especially during the first years of transitioning from conventional management. Yes, the leaf cutter ants are still winning, and yes, we produce far less fruits than a few years ago, but we also managed to sell our first crop of organic mangos at an excellent quality this year. And there are always plenty of oranges around for everyone to enjoy. Eventually things do arrive at a new equilibrium.

With help from our students, we have been fine-tuning our monitoring protocols and compiled data on our orchards for two years now. The resulting information is a great help in understanding “pest” ecology and life cycles, which is the only way to develop and implement successful organic management.