Gugino Revels in South Africa's Beauty and Crop Production
Posted: September 11, 2015
Beth K. Gugino, Associate Professor in Penn State's Department of Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology, presented a keynote speech titled "One Size Doesn't Fit All: The Challenge of Optimizing Cropping Sequences for Improved Plant Health" at the 25th Annual Soil-borne Disease Symposium in Stellenbosch, South Africa, on September 9-10, 2015. Government and university researchers and industry representatives attended the symposium, which was organized by Dr. Sandra Lamprecht from the Agricultural Research Council-Plant Protection Research Institute. Gugino's travel was sponsored by ZZ2, a large farming enterprise operating across South Africa. ZZ2 can be considered a national leader in the production of tomatoes, avocados, onions, apples, pears, and stone fruit, as well as cattle for local consumption and export. Their farming approach emphasizes optimizing soil and plant health in conjunction with the use of biologically-based crop production strategies.
Dr. Gugino also presented as part of Stellenbosch University's Department of Plant Pathology's graduate student seminar series and had the opportunity to visit several production fields in the Western Cape province. She visited Hishtil, a large transplant producer near Riebeeck West, which is also in the process of establishing a facility in North Carolina, and Biocult, a mycorrhizal production company located southeast of Cape Town in Somerset West.
Dr. Gugino's visit coincided with the hand-transplanting of onions northeast of Cape Town in the Cape Fold mountains near Ceres in the Western Cape. Engaged in onion research at Penn State since 2009, Gugino valued the opportunity to observe approximately 125 field workers hand-transplanting onions in a 40-hectare field. Although the scale of production was much larger, the use of transplants and hand-labor were similar to production in Pennsylvania. Dr. Gugino also visited u-pick strawberry production fields.
"South Africans are dealing with many of the same soil-borne pathogens... The technology here is applicable to systems there, and vice versa."
Dr. Gugino discovered that South Africans are dealing with many of the same soil-borne pathogens as Pennsylvanians are, and the potential collaboration is evident in that the technology here is applicable to systems there, and vice versa. Although South Africans appear to be just beginning to explore ways to improve soil health with cover crops and green manure crops in certain production systems, they are advanced in terms of very strong research programs in agriculture and crop production, which could lead to mutually beneficial partnerships.
South Africa is 1.57 times the size of Pennsylvania. Agricultural production is similar to that in California and the southwest with a dry, semi-arid climate fostering little foliar disease but abundant soil-borne pathogen and nematode problems. Dr. Gugino's tourism travel was predominantly near the city of Cape Town and Cape Point, where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet. The bulk of South Africa's tomato production occurs in the north, which is where Dr. Gugino hopes to travel on her next visit.
Dr. Gugino had the pleasure of visiting the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, viewing the national flower (King Protea) and the Strelitzia reginae 'Mandela’s Gold' Bird of Paradise flower. Most unusual to see was an exhibition featuring to-scale dinosaur statues among the cycads and other endangered plants. Dr. Gugino hiked in the Table Mountain National Park, climbed a lighthouse at Cape Point, explored the Malaysian District in Cape Town, photographed endangered African penguins nesting at Boulder Beach, and enjoyed Stellenbosch, South Africa's "Napa Valley," the home of enormous estate vineyards and an extraordinary amount of wine production.