Americans Soon May Get Cocoa from Puerto Rico
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Agriculture Department said Tuesday that Americans soon may be able to enjoy home-grown cocoa from Puerto Rico instead of relying entirely on foreign production.
Cocoa, the raw ingredient of chocolate, was tried in the 1940s as a crop in Puerto Rico but failed because of disease and insect problems, said agronomist Edmundo Rivera of the department’s Agricultural Research Service.
However, he said in a report by the agency, Puerto Rico has been free of black pod fungus, the disease that threatens production in other areas. But problems still persist, including the ability of cocoa crops to tolerate acid soil and resist insect damage.
Last year the United States imported more than $800 million worth of cocoa beans, powder and cocoa butter - the nation’s entire supply - from Brazil, the main exporter, and other producers, including West Africa, Central America and the Dominican Republic.
Heber Irizzary, an agency horticulturist, said cocoa can be an alternative crop that Puerto Rican farmers can grow on steep, marginal soils or on land once used for sugar cane. Cane, once a staple of the island’s economy, has become less profitable because of low yields, higher costs of production and lower market prices.
Irizzary and Riveral, who work at the USDA agency’s tropical crops and germplasm research laboratory in Mayaguez, for the past eight years have been studying cocoa hybrids from many countries in order to adapt them to Puerto Rico.
Experimental trials of cocoa strains from Costa Rica in the early 1980s last year produced a yield potential of 3,500 to 4,000 pounds per acre from six-year-old trees, they said. Yields of 2,000 pounds per acre are considered marketable.
Also, the agency said, cocoa from the test trees has been evaluated favorably by four of the largest U.S. chocolate manufacturers.
Rivera said cocoa would meet the need for crops in Puerto Rico that are suited to small family operations, since it can be grown with a minimum amount of tillage and does not require expensive machinery.