Experimental studies to identify appropriate production practices are a frequent and important step in the development of optimal management strategies for all crops. However, this effort can be costly and in many cases requires a high level of technical knowledge. In many developing countries, research funding and technical expertise could be a limiting factor, so experimentally generated data about proper production practices might not be available to most growers or might not exist at all. In these situations, especially for a new crop, growers can try to adapt technologies from existing research data for similar cropping systems, but ultimately they must rely on their experience and common sense to determine how to grow their crop. When this happens, it is likely that there will be large variability in production practices being implemented by different growers. By combining the results of all these different practices, it is possible to identify trends that could give growers a better understanding of practices that are most appropriate for maximizing yield as well as those that appear to be only marginally beneficial or even counterproductive, and therefore should be reduced or eliminated.
Costa Rica is the world’s largest producer of ‘MD-2’ pineapple and of fresh pineapple grown for export, and is among the top five in area devoted to the crop together with Brazil (fresh fruit mostly for domestic consumption), Philippines (canned and fresh fruit production for export), Thailand, and Indonesia (both mainly canned fruit for export) (Food and Agriculture Organization - Statistics, 2010; U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2008). Although pineapple has been commercially produced in this country for almost five decades, it was only recently that there was a rapid increase in the planted area from ≈8000 ha in the late 1990s to 20,000 ha in 2003, and to a dramatic 45,000 ha in 2010 (Barquero, 2011; Quijandria et al., 1997). This fast growth in production area was not followed by an increase in the availability of technical information or assistance for all the new growers who were switching to pineapple from crops such as banana (Musa sp.), cassava (Manihot esculenta), papaya (Carica papaya), rice (Oryza sativa), and common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris), for which production practices are considerably different from those used in pineapple. Most of the research conducted in pineapple is done by private companies that do not make information available to the general public. For this reason, there has been a wide range of production practices used by Costa Rican growers not affiliated with the major pineapple producing and exporting corporations.
Although in the past the most cultivated cultivar was Smooth Cayenne because it produced high yields and large fruit, and the plants were vigorous and stress-tolerant, a rapid change in consumer preferences forced growers to switch to ‘MD-2’ (Bartholomew, 2009). This cultivar is preferred because of its sweetness and yellow color (Syahrin, 2011). However, ‘MD-2’ fruit tend to be smaller and the plants are less vigorous and more susceptible to biotic and abiotic stresses than ‘Smooth Cayenne’. Furthermore, ‘MD-2’ plants are particularly susceptible to natural flowering, which is believed to be caused, at least in part, by low temperatures and results in significant variations in fruit production and harvest timing (Kuan et al., 2005). Thus, the switch to ‘MD-2’ made pineapple production more challenging and risky, obligating growers to have a greater technical understanding of the crop to ensure success. Unfortunately, there is limited information about ‘MD-2’ growing requirements in the literature.
Planting density and fertilization are among the production factors that have the greatest influence on yield, therefore appropriate practices in these areas are critical for optimum production. Traditionally, pineapple production has used planting densities of around 30,000 plants/ha in low-input systems (Rebolledo et al., 2000; Selamat and Masaud, 2005; Uriza-Avila et al., 2005), but the intensification of the crop has favored the use of higher planting densities that range from 50,000 plants/ha to more than 70,000 plants/ha (Hepton, 2003; Hung et al., 2011; Perez et al., 2005). Since pineapple growers in Costa Rica with no access to privately funded research on this crop have expressed interest in identifying planting densities for ‘MD-2’ that maximize yield and fruit quality, the objective of the present study was to gather information about the production practices implemented by commercial pineapple growers in this country and use this information to describe the response of the crop to these practices. Thus, growers who have no access to experimental data could identify appropriate practices for ‘MD-2’ production using a collaborative approach based on information/experience sharing, but the results must be evaluated in the light of sustainability and best management practices.
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