Fri | Sep 22, 2017

Farmer seeks organic solution to coffee disease

Published:Saturday | March 9, 2013 | 3:00 AM
Louis Campbell of the Coffee Industry Board points to leaf rust infestation on a coffee plant in the Brandon Hill area of upper St Andrew.
The round yellow spots are an indication of coffee leaf rust infestation.-photos by Christopher Serju
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Christopher Serju, Gleaner Writer

AN ORGANIC farmer is claiming some success in treating the dreaded coffee leaf rust disease which now threatens the viability of the local coffee industry.

After some experimenting, Dorienne Rowan Campbell has come up with a formulation that seems to work in checking Hemileia vastatrix, the fungus which causes the disease.

She advises blending 10 large garlic bulbs with enough water to fill two 750 millilitres of water and adding organic coconut which acts as sticker, enough to make 40 gallons of solution.

Time-consuming but well worth the effort is how the chairman of the Jamaica Organic Agriculture Movement describes the process.

"Now because it is organic and a natural thing, you tend to have to apply it more times than you would if it was a chemical you buy over the counter," advised Campbell. "We watched it and thought, 'Okay, it's improving', and then it looked a little like it was coming back, but we're seeing that it has worked and have been applying it very forcefully."

Now the trees are showing new growth of leaves and holding the berries as well.

Rust fungus infections appear on the coffee leaves, with the first noticeable symptoms being small, pale, yellow spots on the upper surfaces. As the spots increase in size, the fungus spreads to the underside of the leaves, which fall prematurely, seriously compromising the plant's ability to process sunlight into food. It is spread by contact from one leaf to another and does not affect the quality of the coffee but results in significantly reduced quantity.

Rowan Campbell, who operates a small organic farm on five acres at the top of western Portland at elevations between 3,000 and 4,000 feet above sea level, where she markets Blue Mountain coffee under the Rowan's Royale brand, first discussed the matter with her Germany-based certifier before proceeding.

Certified for the Canadian, European Union and Japanese markets, she was very cautious, guarding zealously as she does, the organic integrity of Rowan's Royale brand with everything on her farm grown organically. Producing her own seeds and overseeing roasting and packaging, she is able to meet the stringent measures relatively easy because of having the necessary infrastructure in place.

Though she has been cultivating coffee since 1992, this was the first time Campbell was encountering the coffee leaf rust.

Upon consulting with other farmers, she found that some were cutting down the affected plants in a bid to save some of the crop, but she rejected this option, deciding instead to research and experiment.

She explains: "I saw it in December and didn't know what it was, but it was clear that it was something different and that I needed to deal with it quickly, and I did. I applied all the local things that I had read about, that I had seen.

"The important thing in organic production is that I just didn't say, 'All right, I'll use this.' I talked to my certifier and said, 'Is this okay? I want to try so and so, will that compromise?' and he said, 'No, you're doing the right thing there, and so we started and I made the solution and we applied it'."

- C.S.