Cacao acreage planted in Hawaii has increased more than five fold since 2010, and additional increases are projected through 2020. Project PI’s, partners and collaborating producers will evaluate fertility and nutrient management practices used during cacao orchard establishment and share results with Hawaii’s growing number of small and newly established cacao operations. Scale-appropriate and locally-adapted fertility and nutrient management guidelines hold the potential to increase the success rate of cacao establishment by improving seedling growth, nutrition and precocity. Successful establishment will allow the best opportunity for Hawaii’s cacao industry to grow quickly and achieve adequate quality and quantity of harvest to capture economies of scale.
1. Evaluate economic costs and seedling growth benefits of site-specific fertility and nutrient management best practices during cacao orchard establishment.
- Summarize economic costs (ie. cost of soil testing, amendments and fertility additives) of cacao fertility and nutrient management with existing practices on participating producer farms.
- Establish on-farm trials with five participating producer farms in diverse geographic zones of cacao production on the islands of Oahu and Hawaii (aka Big Island).
- Assess the seedling growth benefits of fertility and nutrient management under three treatments: (1) pre-existing farm practice, (2) best practices for fertility and nutrient management with application protocol adapted to farm soil and environmental conditions (3) same as treatment two plus application of arbuscular mycorrhizae (AM) inoculum.
- Conduct chemical soil evaluations
- Conduct agronomic and leaf tissue analysis
- Gather anecdotal feedback and observations from host farms
2. Share results with producers and other agricultural professionals.
- Employ online survey to gauge cacao farmer familiarity and usage of soil testing, leaf tissue analysis and site-specific nutrient management guidelines for cacao.
- Hold three field days to demonstrate effects of soil management on cacao establishment. Field days will be held at host sites, and will include presentations from the host farmer(s), two agricultural professionals on featured topic(s), and a tour or hands-on activity.
- Present initial findings at the 2019 Hawaii Chocolate and Cacao Conference, which is attended by 100 or more cacao and chocolate industry professionals.
- Publish a fact sheet and informational video.
- Disseminate resources, results and related information via social media networks and producer-to-producer networks.
As outlined in the project objectives.
Results from the documentation of existing establishment practices and associated costs are being collected and processed. The best practices for successful cacao establishment include:
- Tree cages.
- Selection of vigorous germplasm, half sibling of known variety in the case of seedlings.
- Use of healthy planting stock, 5-8 months old seedlings with well-developed root system.
- Analyzing and amending soil to adjust pH and nutrient imbalances at pre-plant and with an ongoing quarterly fertilizer schedule.
- A site specific strategy for weed management, windbreaks and shade.
The trail planting was established on five farms in the last quarter of 2018 and growth data has been collected on a quarterly basis throughout 2019.
A cacao nursery trial was conducted to screen and identify a promising commercially available mycorrhizal soil amendment to use in the on-farm component of the trial. Growth rate (basal diameter, height, leaf count) was recorded for seven treatments: control (no fertilizer), control plus 75% commercial practice fertilizer, control plus 100% commercial practice fertilizer, amendment 1 + 75% fertilizer , amendment 2 + 75% fertilizer, amendment 3 plus 75% fertilizer, amendment mix (1-3) plus 75% fertilizer. Root samples were collected and are being analyzed for colonization by the biological amendments in an ongoing research collaboration. Preliminary results indicate small but statistically significant increase in growth for two of the amendments over the control treatment, one of which was selected for use in the on-farm component of the trial.
Educational & Outreach Activities
A half-day workshop led by Dr. Nhu Nguyen for LCC student researchers to learn lab procedures for obtaining root samples from cacao seedlings and preparing the the samples to assess the colonization by myccorhizal soil amendments.
Consultations were conducted during site visits to five farms participating in the trial, as well as seven additional farms, both those managing new plantings and evaluating cacao as potential crop.
A talk was provided to beginning cacao farmers and existing farmers interested in cropping cacao in November, 2019, highlighting key orchard establishment issues to address at the site selection and planning stage, such as windbreak design and scale. Additional information was shared on business planning, with an emphasis on the importance of low capital, value-added production for small farms (e.g. less than 10 acres of cacao).
A short talk was given at the 2019 Hawaii Chocolate and Cacao Association on the results of the 2019 Hawaii Cacao Survey, including information on priority issues identified by growers, assessing the relative importance of orchard establishment and management training alongside other needs such as business and ag-tourism developemnt.
A resource guide was assembled for growers and disseminated in workshops, assembling:
- Price sheets, websites and contact info for service providers working with cacao in Hawaii such as extension agents, researchers, nurseries, agronomists, cacao buyers, etc.
- An annotated bibliography of extension publications, videos and websites from Hawaii and other English-speaking countries that produce cacao (e.g. Australia).
- A list of cacao grower organizations, educational providers and opportunities, such as chocolate festivals with educational components, the Fine Chocolate and Cacao Institute and the Hawaii Cacao and Chocolate Association.
A cacao nursery trial of mycorrhizal amendments was organized by the project coordinator and conducted with students in the agriculture and plant biology program at Leeward Community College, with the support of LCC horticulture instructor Dr. Daniela Elliott and UH CTAHR TPSS micriobiologist Dr. Nhu Nguyen. The trial screened three commercially available amendments to select the most promising product to use in the project’s on-farm trial and provided a useful bridge for the community college students to work on applied research with faculty from UH Manoa. This work is being carried forward by the student Kiana Rich, who is assessing the root colonization of the different treatments using lab procedures taught by Dr. Nhu Nguyen.
(Additional details are included in the title of each photograph, which is saved in the reporting platform’s database, but does not display).
The project coordinator gave a short presentation at the Hawaii Chocolate and Cacao Association’s 2018 annual meeting and conference to share information about the trial and upcoming outreach events with estimated seventy farmers and industry professionals (approximately 30 cacao farmers). A short video synopsis of the event was published by the HCCA https://youtu.be/ou_A8qs252s?t=256.
A full-day workshop-style event was organized on Hawaii Island in July, 2018, and attended by 43 people, including 19 self-identifying farmers (other participants were service providers, prospective farmers, chocolate makers and agri-tourism operators). Eight experienced farmers and cacao experts gave presentations, which were coupled with a hands-on formation pruning training in an established orchard, a hands-on cacao planting and tree cage installation session (best practices) in an established orchard, and three tours of working cacao farms. Information was also provided on Hawaii’s cacao industry and its unique niche within the global chocolate market, including talks from local cacao buyers on their quality standards, and the group participated in a quality assessment (and tasting!) to learn to distinguish between off-grade and world-class, fine cacao.
The trial was installed at five host farms from September through December, 2018. At each site, the project coordinator facilitated the documentation of best practices for successful cacao establishment with input from soil agronomist Pete Bunn of Crop Nutrient Solutions, Inc., Dan O’Doherty of Cacao Services, Inc. and the farmers at each host site.
A second full-day workshop-style event was organized on Oahu in December, 2018, and attended by 27 people, including 10 farmers (other participants were service providers, prospective farmers, chocolate makers and backyard growers). Six experienced farmers and cacao experts gave presentations, which were coupled with a hands-on formation pruning training session in an established orchard and a hands-on cacao planting and tree cage session (best practices) in an established orchard. Information was also provided on Hawaii’s cacao industry and its unique niche within the global chocolate market, including talks from local cacao buyers on their quality standards, and the group participated in a quality assessment (and tasting!) to learn to distinguish between off-grade and world-class, fine cacao.
In December, 2018, the project coordinator worked with the GoFarm Hawaii farmer incubator program to install a demo planting (and trial site) using best establishment practices in two half-day work sessions that involved 15 farmers in training.
Finally, the project coordinator worked with CTAHR extension agents for a half-day on cacao grafting and establishment practices to support the uptake of cacao information and resources by the extension service, advance a demo planting at the Waimanalo Research Station and enable future collaboration on outreach events.
The total of 33 participants who self-identified as farmers at the project's two workshop-style events rated the likelihood of implementing the information presented at the event on their property as a 9 on a 10-point scale, based on the results of the anonymous, written event evaluation. The events' content focused on best practices for successful cacao establishment, as well as orchard design and business planning for cacao farming in Hawaii (a more detailed description is provided in the activities section of this report).
A collaboration was initiated with the University of Hawaii CTAHR County Extension Service to conduct the Hawaii Cacao Survey, which for the first time allowed the annual survey to incorporate an assessment of priority issues for cacao growers in addition to documenting acreage, yields and agronomic practices. A Specialty Crop Block Grant was obtained from the Hawaii Department of Agriculture to provide training on post-harvest processing of cacao. This topic was flagged by growers as a training priority in their evaluations of field days conducted through this grant in 2018 and confirmed in the Hawaii Cacao Survey. An additional collaboration was initiated with the Hawaii Chocolate and Cacao Association to integrate the hands-on, on-farm training style initiated in this project into the organization’s annual meeting and to align future training opportunities with other existing events attended by cacao growers and chocolate makers in Hawaii, such as the Kauai Coffee and Chocolate Festival.
The five farm hosts of this trial have already benefited from improved access to information through the learning network established by the project coordinator, which includes cacao experts, extension agents, researchers and agronomists. The improved practices and understanding of the variables that contribute to successful cacao establishment will benefit the sustainability of their farming operations and the persistence of cacao production – a promising perennial cropping systems for Hawaii. These results are being shared with a broader audience of farmers and industry professionals through the Skill Up! events organized and led by the project coordinator, which have received additional grant support from the Hawaii Department of Agriculture, and dissemination through the Hawaii Chocolate and Cacao Association and the CTAHR extension program.
New working collaborations have been established between agriculture faculty at Leeward Community College and UH Manoa CTAHR TPSS, which benefits the research being conducted in this project through the contributions of the faculty and their students, but also provides opportunities for for community college students to participate in applied agricultural research on biological soil amendments, learn new lab techniques, work with researchers and graduate students, and contribute to their island’s farming community. New collaborations have also been established between Oahu RC&D and the extension agents from the UH County Extension Service, as well as between farmers and the private sector agronomists and service providers that are supporting the trial and associated outreach events.
The primary outcome for 2017 has been site visits to cooperating farms to plan the launch of the trial for May, 2018, and document existing establishment practices. Contact has been made with the Hawaii Cacao and Chocolate Association so that trial results and field days can be promoted through their newsletter to membership.