The students had a chance to learn more about agriculture in tropical regions while escaping the cold Canadian weather
By Logan Emiry
In total, 15 University of Guelph students travelled to Costa Rica for ten days in February to learn about agriculture in a tropical climate. The trip was part of the Field Course in International Agriculture.
Dr. Max Jones, a plant science professor, instructed the course and Dr. John Sulik served as a chaperon. Both men accompanied the students on the trip. This year was Jones’s first time teaching the course on his own, now that Dr. Clarence Swanton retired.
The course included five lectures before the trip to help students learn about the different crops and farming practices present in the country. Course material focused on the differences between agriculture in temperate and tropical regions. Students learned that year-round growing does not always increase yield, as increased disease pressures and decreased daylight hours provide challenges that Canadian farmers don’t have to face.
While in Costa Rica, students visited twelve farms spanning from beef to cacao and pineapple. Each tour included a discussion with the farmer, allowing students to ask questions about production practices, farm challenges and other points of interest.
Costa Rica prioritizes environmental stewardship and ecological sustainability in its agricultural practices. Many farms on the tour made this focus on sustainability evident with practices to decrease their environmental impacts.
Both dairy farms on the tour, for example, including a five-cow dairy farm and a herd milking 130 head, used biodigesters to process the manure produced on farm and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Many farmers used intercropping or mixed agroforestry systems to increase biodiversity and reduce soil erosion. Producers in some regions had access to government subsidies for living fences to decrease erosion on mountain sides. Every farmer was proud of the small steps he or she was taking to help create a greater change.
Upon returning from the trip, students summarized their experiences in journals. The writing assignment allowed students to reflect on their learnings from the tour and look back on the incredible experience they had.
Logan wrote this article as part of his flexible internship program at the University of Guelph. For more information about this program, please click here.
Dr. Max Jones/University of Guelph photo