Today we covered a lot of southwestern Puerto Rico! We started off at the Illinois Crop Improvement Association just outside of Ponce, PR. There we learned that they do a lot of research with corn (including dent and popcorn), soybeans, sunflowers, peanuts, barley, and wheat among other row crops. Here it stays warm all year around so they can have fit several different growing season into one year.
There they also do a lot of manual cross pollination, which is very labor intensive. With corn they have to but a bag over each shot before it silks, and they also put bags over the tassels to prevent volunteer pollination of different corn plants. They also manually cross pollinate soybeans. They do this by taking pollen from the male plant and rubbing it in female flower and tagging which flower the pollinated. We were told that they only need two pods from a plant to make sure that the cross pollination was successful.
They also had a large sunflower production. These sunflowers however are not produced for food like confectionary sunflowers. Instead their primary focus are sunflowers being produced for oil and are being sent to Canada, Mexico, Japan and many more.
Some of the things that I thought were interesting include that they twin rowed their crops for irrigation. They ran drip irrigation lines between every two rows. They also planted everything in a four inch raised bed. We also learned that they have to spray their crops twenty times or more to prevent against disease and insects. They also said that their insect and disease pressure was extremely high because it never gets cold here. Because they are part of the United States they have to meet all USDA regulations and are inspected frequently. They also had to document every planting, every time they sprayed, and when they harvested. Some of the major companies such as Syngenta and Monsanto can rent some of their ground and use it for research.
After we left Illinois Crop Improvement Association we headed to Bosque Estatal de Guanica (Guanica State Forest), which is a dry tropical forest. Some things that we noticed were that the trees were fairly small and were very dense and it was extremely dry. Although there was not much wildlife, we did see a snake.
We left there and headed cattle country. on the way there we saw a funeral procession. Their funeral processions are very different then the ones we typically see state side. In addition to having the normal funeral procession, they have a car at the beginning of the procession that plays music over very loud speakers. Most people here also do not pull over for the funeral procession.
We headed on in to the Cabo Rojo National Wildlife Refuge visitor’s center. We learned that they are in a long process of restoration of the land which is now over 1,000 acres. This is home to not only some native birds, but also hundreds of migratory birds including hummingbirds, falcons, owls, ducks, etc.
The wildlife reserve is also home to some natural and artificial salt flats. These are areas where water is let in and then the water is evaporated off and the salt is left behind. This process allows the harvest of prime quality sea salt fresh from the Caribbean.
From there we left and headed to El Faro de Los Morrillos which was a light house on top of cliffs on the southwestern most tip of Puerto Rico. At the base of these cliffs was a beautiful beach called La Playa Sucia. Although in Spanish Sucia means dirty it was probably one of the most pretty beaches that any of us had ever seen. The sand was very soft and white and the water was very blue. We then prepared to return to the hotel with a quick stop to view the sun setting on the Caribbean Sea and a bite to eat at Pollo Tropical (a local fast food chain).
Katie Gehrt, Senior Agricultural Systems
Ella Herges, Senior Agribusiness Economics