Roots of Resilience: Mulching for Higher Yields in Breadfruit Agroforestry and Island Food Sovereignty

Project Overview

FS24-370
Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2024: $18,011.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2026
Grant Recipient: Carite 3.0
Region: Southern
State: Puerto Rico
Principal Investigator:

Commodities

No commodities identified

Practices

No practices identified

Proposal summary:

Puerto Rico's agriculture faces
numerous challenges. One of them is the yield and stability of
breadfruit as a local food source. Problems like premature fruit
drop impede breadfruit's potential to contribute to the island's
food security. Our project seeks to evaluate the effect of heavy
mulching on breadfruit trees. This could improve management
practices and boost yields. By establishing an optimal mulch
depth, we aim to make breadfruit a more dependable staple crop.
This will support sustainable agriculture and food security in
Puerto Rico.

Breadfruit is a perennial tree
crop that thrives in tropical regions and holds tremendous
potential as a food source. However, its cultivation in Puerto
Rico has yet to be fully optimized. Addressing fruit drop through
improved soil management could lead to substantial gains in
output. Our solution is to investigate heavy mulching's impact on
breadfruit trees. Our hypothesis is that increased mulch depth
will correlate with heightened soil moisture retention, improved
soil fertility, reduced fruit drop, and enhanced yield.

Study Design

To assess mulching's effects, we
will conduct a randomized block experiment. The experiment will
use five mulch treatments across mature breadfruit trees. The
treatments will comprise varying mulch depths: 0 (control), 2, 4,
6, and 8 inches. We will implement five replicates per treatment
to ensure statistical confidence. The research will occur over
two growing seasons. After a single growing season we should gain
immediate, actionable insights.

We will measure soil moisture and
nutrient levels at regular intervals to track changes attributed
to the mulching. We will quantify fruit yield for each tree to
ascertain the impact of mulch depth on output. An analysis of
variance will test the significance of treatment effect. This
will provide a rigorous statistical foundation for our
findings.

Expected Outcomes

This study aims to identify the
optimal mulch depth for improving breadfruit yields in Puerto
Rico. Expected outcomes include:

  1. A detailed analysis correlating
    mulch depth with soil moisture, nutrient levels, and fruit
    yield.
  2. A set of mulching suggestions
    tailored for breadfruit growers, informed by local
    conditions.
  3. An expanded body of knowledge
    for local and regional farmers, supporting sustainable
    agriculture practices.

The expected increase in
breadfruit yields would contribute to Puerto Rico's food
security. That would decrease reliance on imported staples. By
enhancing the resilience and productivity of breadfruit orchards,
we can create a replicable model for sustainable agriculture
within the tropics.

Conclusion

The use of heavy mulching in
breadfruit cultivation holds promise as a simple yet effective
practice to boost yields. By conducting this research, we will
fill a critical knowledge gap. Once filled, we can provide
practical guidelines for local farmers. The broader adoption of
optimized mulching practices could be profound. It could
reinforce Puerto Rico's farming sector, safeguarding food
supplies against the backdrop of climate change.

Our project aligns with the
Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) goals to
enhance efficiency, productivity, and profitability in farming.
We believe that our focused research will deliver strategic
advancements for breadfruit cultivation. It will serve as a
stepping stone to a more food-secure future for Puerto
Rico.

Project objectives from proposal:

Approaches and Methods for
Enhancing Breadfruit Yields through Strategic Mulching
Techniques

Solving the constant challenges
in breadfruit cultivation in Puerto Rico needs innovative,
research-backed solutions. Premature fruit drop is a primary
constraint on breadfruit output. It threatens the role of this
tree as a sustainable food resource. In this section, we outline
our project’s methodology for studying the impact of mulching on
breadfruit yields. Our aim is to substantiate the practice as a
solution to increase local food security.

Methodology Overview

Our methodology centers on a
randomized block design. It allows us to isolate the effect of
mulch depth on breadfruit yield while controlling for variability
among trees. By measuring changes in soil moisture, nutrient
levels, and fruit yield, we can assess the efficacy of mulching
with vigor. Our structured approach ensures that the project is
repeatable and yields clear, objective results.

Randomized Block Design

We chose randomized block testing
for its robustness in field trials. We will divide breadfruit
trees into blocks that are homogenous in aspects like age, size,
and health. Within each block, we will randomly assign the five
mulching treatments to individual trees. This randomization
minimizes the impact of confounding variables. This allows for
precise attribution of any observed changes to the mulching
depth.

Mulching Treatments

We will apply mulch depths of 0
(control), 2, 4, 6, and 8 inches around the base of each tree,
extending outward to the tree’s drip line. The mulch used will be
of uniform type. We'll use local sources to reflect the
conditions and materials accessible to Puerto Rican farmers. We
will apply the mulch at the start of the growing season. During
the study period, we will monitor the condition of the mulch and
maintain it throughout the study.

Measuring Soil Moisture and Nutrient Levels

Soil moisture is a critical
indicator of the micro-environmental conditions at the root zone
of breadfruit trees. By using soil moisture sensors at various
depths, we will gather data on how mulch depth affects water
retention in the soil. We will take soil samples to measure
nutrient levels. Using key metrics such as nitrogen, phosphorus,
and potassium content, which are essential for healthy breadfruit
growth. These measurements will be taken at regular intervals to
monitor changes throughout the growing season.

Fruit Yield Quantification

The primary measure of success
will be the fruit yield from each tree. By counting and weighing
the breadfruit harvested from each tree, we can assess the impact
of mulching on output. This process involves meticulous recording
of each fruit’s size and weight to ensure that the data reflects
the true yield.

Data Analysis

Analysis of variance (ANOVA) will
be employed to test the statistical significance of our results.
This method will compare the means of different treatments. This
should provide a clear picture of the relationship between mulch
depth and tree performance. The ANOVA will tell us not only if
there are differences but also how confident we can be of our
findings.

Addressing the Statement of the Problem

The described methodology is
tailored to address the challenges of breadfruit cultivation. By
focusing on mulch depth, we are targeting a factor that any
farmer can control and optimize. The study’s findings will
provide actionable insights. Insights that can lead to immediate
improvements in breadfruit management practices.

The project’s randomized block
design ensures that results are specific to the effects of
mulching. It ensures the results are not skewed by other
variables. The in-depth measurement of soil conditions and fruit
yield allows for a thorough analysis. It will show how mulching
influences the growth environment of breadfruit trees and, in
turn, their yield.

Through this research, we aim to
develop and share a set of mulching best practices with
breadfruit growers across Puerto Rico. The methodology serves the
immediate needs of this project. Further, it sets a precedent for
future agricultural research within the region. The measurable
outputs—soil moisture, nutrient levels, and fruit yield—provide a
tangible benchmark for the success of mulching as a cultivation
technique.

We expect our research outcomes
to address the problems of fruit drop and inconsistent yields
that plague breadfruit cultivation. By determining the optimal
mulch depth for breadfruit trees, we can offer local farmers a
simple, cost-effective strategy to increase their harvests. This
has the potential to significantly contribute to Puerto Rico's
food security and pave the way for a more resilient agricultural
sector.

The systematic approach of this
project aims to solve an immediate agricultural challenge. It
also contributes to a broader understanding of sustainable
farming practices. The successful implementation of this study’s
findings could mark a turning point in breadfruit cultivation.
Not only in Puerto Rico but in tropical regions worldwide where
food security is a pressing concern.

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.