Sustainable Management Practices for Vanilla Cultivation

Progress report for GS21-238

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2021: $16,499.00
Projected End Date: 08/31/2023
Grant Recipient: University of Florida
Region: Southern
State: Florida
Graduate Student:
Major Professor:
Dr. Alan Chambers
University of Florida TREC
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Project Information

Summary:

Vanilla has the potential to be the highest-grossing agricultural commodity per acre available to growers in Florida, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico, but foundational strategies for cultivation are lacking. Vanilla is the vining orchid species that produces vanilla “beans” (seed capsules) from which natural vanilla extract is produced. Management practices of domestic vanilla production have not yet been developed.  Since there is a nearly insatiable demand for natural vanilla extract, the USA being the largest importer, domestic growers located in favorable growing climates could greatly benefit from diversifying their agribusiness with this alternative crop. Therefore, responding to and supporting the rising interest in the crop, we propose developing responsible guidelines for vanilla production in the subtropical United States.

As a new crop, growing recommendations are necessary to prevent the overuse of chemical inputs, decrease costs, and harvest a uniform high-quality crop; all of which sustains farms’ economic viability and will establish a sustainable mindset during the early stages of vanilla adoption. One of the highest production costs (~40%) is manual pollination, but natural pollinators have only been minimally investigated. The promotion of natural pollinators could provide a significant economic benefit and at the same time incentivize reduced pesticide. Data for the comparison of different cultivars has yet to be made available. Publishing cultivar characteristics would allow growers to choose the highest yielding and best quality types that are best fit for their growing system. Through these efforts, we hope to contribute to enhanced grower profitability, improved yields, and reduced chemical inputs.

Project Objectives:
  1. Develop input recommendations for conventional and organic vanilla nutrition management.

This first objective tests the efficacy of conventional and organic fertilizer rates on plant growth. Internationally, vanilla is commercially cultivated by most small acreage farmers without the input of any fertilization; however, this is unlikely to be the adopted strategy for domestic growers. Facilitating both organic and conventional cultivation will provide growers with options to meet their target markets. This objective will be met with two one-year experiments. First, an idea of the crop nutritional requirements for vanilla will be established, and second, a test of conventional and organic fertilizer sources will be performed. For the first experiment a Florida-adapted micro-propagated clone, V. planifolia 'Painter', will be established in 1-gallon pots with 14 treatments covering a range of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium application rates. The second experiment will be designed to have conventional and organic fertilizer treatments matching the optimum nitrogen rate based on the results of the first experiment. Plant growth rates will be recorded every two to six months to determine the optimal fertilization regimes. All treatments will be statistically evaluated using ANOVA and Tukey's T-test of honest significant difference (HSD) in the R statistical software.

  1. Discover and promote native pollination of vanilla.

The second objective is to discover which insects act as native vanilla pollinators in South Florida. We will collaborate with an entomologist, local farmer, and local park biologists to plan the locations and times for observing pollinator activity. We plan to use camera traps to record pollinator visits and quantify the number of pollinators visiting flowers and identify the pollinator species. If possible, a small sample of pollinators will be captured to confirm identification and for photography records. A sub-objective will be to describe as best as possible the environment that promotes the habitation of the targeted pollinators. On-farm and natural environment observations will be done in year one and if an appropriate pollinator is found, in year two we will attempt to acquire, attract, and house as possible the pollinators in a shade house environment. Camera traps will then be used to verify pollinator patronage to vanilla flowers in the shade house.

  1. Generate phenotypic data for potential commercial vanilla accessions.

This last objective is to generate yield and quality information to rank the potential of accessions for commercial production. The primary determinant of vanilla extract quality is the abundance of vanillin in vanilla extract, which can be quantified using High-Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC). Other plant and bean traits essential for vanilla production include disease prevalence, bean length, bean diameter, number of beans per raceme, weight of cured beans, and aroma-flavor composition of cured bean extracts. This project leverages the vanilla germplasm collection at TREC. All traits will be evaluated individually in the software R and accessions will then be ranked accordingly to select appropriate high-performing genotypes.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Dr. Jose Francisco Ruiz Munoz (Researcher)
  • Marshall S. Nathanson, III
  • John Painter
  • Dr. Daniel Carillo (Educator and Researcher)
  • Dr. Yuncong Li (Educator and Researcher)

Research

Materials and methods:
  1. Develop a standard for conventional and organic methods of vanilla plant nutrition.

The first experiment to develop a crop nutritional requirement (CNR): Clonal plants of the Florida-adapted vanilla accession V. planifolia ‘Painter’ will be established in a greenhouse in 1-gallon pots with a growing media consisting of (35% peat, 35% chip#2 (cypress mulch blend) , and 30% airlite). The following rates of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium will be applied annually divided into 4 progressive applications throughout the year…

CNR determination fertilization rates for vanilla

The treatments follow a 3414 experimental design that reduces the number of treatments needed to test three fertilizer elements due to statistical regression techniques. There will be 4 replications of each treatment (for a total of 56 plants), and the plants will be placed in a completely randomized block design under >50% shade (provided by the greenhouse). Plants will be positioned such that there will be no plant-to-plant shading. Irrigation will be completely controlled using drip sprinkler heads and a timer program that matches the water holding capacity of the substrate and plant growth. The growth rates will be examined at the beginning of the experiment and at two-six-month time periods by recording the following plant traits: average stem diameter, number of leaves, average leaf length, average leaf area, leaf nutritional content (from tissue analysis), and chlorophyll content.

For the second experiment to assess organic and conventional applications: we will establish a trial in a shade house to assess the efficacy of predetermined levels (based on the results of the previous study) of conventional and organic fertilizers. Clonal plants of the Florida-adapted vanilla accession V. planifolia ‘Painter’ will be established in 2-gallon pots. There will be five plants in each of the 9 treatments (three conventional, three organic, one control, two foliar products) for a total of 45 plants. The plants will be placed in a completely randomized block design under >50% shade (provided by the greenhouse). Plants will be positioned such that there will be no plant-to-plant shading. Irrigation will be completely controlled using drip sprinkler heads and a timer program that matches the water holding capacity of the substrate and plant growth. The growth rates will be examined at the beginning of the experiment and at two-six-month time periods by recording the following plant traits: average stem diameter, number of leaves, average leaf length, average leaf area, leaf nutritional content (from tissue analysis), and chlorophyll content.

A control treatment will include no supplemental fertilizer. The three conventional treatments will then include the annual application (distributed in quarterly applications) of a slow-release 20-20-20 nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (NPK) fertilizer. The three organic treatments include an Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) certified fertilizer such as a 3-3-3 NPK all-purpose fertilizer at rates to match, as best as possible the level of nutrients for the conventional treatments. Foliar nutrition application will also be investigated with Keyplex 350 (conventional) or Keyplex 350 OR (organic). The control group will not receive any foliar nutrition.

All treatments will be statistically evaluated using ANOVA and Tukey’s T-tests HSD to determine the optimal fertilization regime. All analysis will be done in the R statistical software. Results will be published in a peer-review journal. A grower-focused factsheet will also be produced in the Electronic Data Information Source (EDIS, i.e. UF’s extension medium).

 

  1. Discover and promote native pollination of vanilla.

In year one of this project, an investigation will be conducted on a farm and in natural environments of native vanilla species to observe the pollinators that patronize the flowers. This will include collaboration with a farmer, entomologist, and national/state biologist expertise. Native vanilla species are endangered, and we will therefore conduct this work under the necessary permits. The data collection will involve the observation of the number of insects and type/species. Observations will be done via in-person observation, camera recordings, and live insect trapping. This work will also include observation of the environment that promotes the habitation of the targeted pollinators. In year two of this project, after consultation with experts, a section of the shade house will be modified to promote native pollinator activity. This could include, but is not limited to, removing doors to allow free moving air, planting pollinator-friendly plant species to serve as attractants, and or constructing artificial nests to house pollinators. All observations will be done at the time of flowering for native vanilla species, which vary but are usually once a year around late spring. All observations will be instructive for appropriate actions to promote pollinator presence in our shade house. If we can successfully attract or house pollinators in the shade house, camera traps will be installed to verify vanilla flower patronage.

  1. Generate phenotypic data for potential commercial vanilla accessions.

A phenotypic analysis will be performed over two years by gathering horticulturally relevant information about potential commercial vanilla accessions. Key plant and bean traits that will be measured are disease prevalence, bean length, bean diameter, number of beans, weight of cured beans, and vanillin content, and aroma/flavor composition of extracts. Vanillin content will be measured with the HPLC instrument, available in our lab, and is quantified by a dry weight basis according to standard practice. The data will be collected on all fruiting accessions available in the vanilla germplasm collection. The number of accessions is estimated to be more than 40. An analysis will be performed observing differences between and among years to record the variance of traits for each accession, and using relevant software such as R. The results found from the second year will be instructive for promoting superior accessions to use in secondary or extended trials with growers and controlled crosses between other superior accessions which is beyond the scope of this project.

Research results and discussion:

Results are not available yet as the experiments are just starting to be implemented. 

Participation Summary
1 Farmer participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

No outreach has been performed yet as the experiments are just beginning. 

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.