By Kristen Miller
Pineapples, coffee, and bananas may not be cash crops in Minnesota, but they are in Costa Rica, and two representatives from DC FFA recently toured the country learning about the growing and harvesting of these tropical staples.
Austin Davis, a 2012 Dassel-Cokato graduate, earned the trip when he became a proficiency finalist at the national FFA convention last fall. DC FFA chapter advisor Larry Marquette was able to accompany Davis on the one-week trip to the Central American nation in June.
The trip was a combination of touring agricultural operations including the aforementioned, as well as sightseeing and tourist adventures, like ziplining through the rainforest.
Costa Rica’s main exports include bananas, pineapples, coffee, and palm oil, which is used for various cosmetic and hygienic products, and Marquette and Davis visited a plantation for each of these.
For example, at the coffee plantation, “We learned everything about harvesting, processing, and grading of coffee,” Marquette said.
“The neat thing about it is, the machine they use to process the coffee was about 100 years old and was generated by steam from burning the 20-year-old coffee plants no longer in production,” Marquette informed.
At the banana plantation, they learned the “gamut of how bananas are grown to how they are packaged,” including that banana clusters, before the packing process, weigh upwards of 100 pounds.
Marquette also noted that bananas technically aren’t grown on trees, but on large flowering herbs.
To protect the fruit from bugs and the elements, the bunches are covered with plastic bags. This prevents bruising and discoloration, Davis noted.
On a Dole pineapple plantation, they learned the difference between raising the fruit organically and conventionally.
It was noted that pineapples also aren’t grown on trees, but shrubs.
“What fascinated me,” Davis said, “was that they plant 30,000 plants in an acre and only an experienced planter can plant one-third of an acre a day.”
For the organic fruit, plastic bags are placed in the fields for weed prevention, but herbicides are used for conventional pineapples.
Lastly, Davis and Marquette visited a palm oil plantation and processing plant.
Palm oil is made from seeds in palm trees.
This was not the most exciting tour, Davis said, probably because there wasn’t any food to sample. “We ate a lot of pineapple,” Davis said, which was really good. “Here, it [doesn’t taste] the same.”
It was also noted that the soil in this tropical region is very acidic.
As far as farming implements, there are some places that still use ox carts and primitive equipment, Marquette noted, but for the most part, there aren’t the large-scale operations that one sees in the midwest. Also there isn’t a lot of need to cultivate the land for crops that would need continual tilling.
This experience for Davis, who is attending the University of Minnesota for agronomy, gave him knowledge of agriculture in another region of the world.
“Also, it made me appreciate where the fruits we eat come from and how much work goes into growing and harvesting them,” Davis said.