Barista Magazine

APR-MAR 2014

Serving People Serving Coffee Since 2005

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even more complex. As the complexity is increased, the chances any single mutation will be able to break into the plant's resistance is diminished. What that means, then, is that the more genetically diverse the plant's resistance is, the longer it will remain impervi- ous. "After 30 years, we have plants that have been under a lot of attack, and they're still resistant," says Dr. Gaitán, "But the rust is going to continue with us forever. How long will resistance last? Only until the rust finds a mutant that will crack the code. So we need a combination that can't be cracked for 20 years. That's why we have a multiline variety [in Castillo.]" The Castillo variety, developed by researchers at Cenicafé and released in 2005, is a purposefully genetically complex strain. Consider that all Caturra plants everywhere in the world represent a single genetic line, a mutation from the original Bourbon variety; break that lock, which the coffee rust fungus has already done, and rust can ruin all of those plants wherever it can find them. Castillo, on the other hand, has 35 genetic lines. That means even if rust can break the code to infect one of the lines, the other 34 will still maintain their resistance. Dr. Fernando Gast, the director of Cenicafé, says he expects Castillo to be an important piece of Colombia's plan to battle rust for the next 15 to 20 years, but researchers are already working on other even more genetically complex varieties. "They should be in place in the next 10 to 15 years," he says. Using genetic material from original Ethiopian Arabicas will dramatically increase the plant's complexity. "Only when the research has been completed and we have the data, will we release the [new] varieties." In the meantime, the FNC has worked with its 1,500-member extension service (the people who offer technical assistance and training to the 500,000 farmer members of the FNC) to promote and distribute the Castillo variety. "Why are we so insistent that farmers make the change? Because we believe it's their best bet," says Luis Fernando Samper, chief communications and marketing officer for the FNC. "Fungicides are the only other [tool] efficient at treating an outbreak." Fungicides, however, have significant drawbacks. First, they're expensive. Second, they have to be applied at exactly the right moment (by the time rust spots start showing up on leaves, it's often too late). Third, they have to be applied according to a specific schedule, for which the grower also needs cooperation from the weather: Too much rain will wash the application right off. Additionally, Cenicafé has developed six separate varieties of Castillo tailored to different regions of the country based on soil, altitude, microclimatic variations, and other geographic conditions. Price, it should be noted, won't be a concern: Since the work devel- oping the Castillo variety was done by the farmers' own organi- zation, the costs for them to acquire the new seeds has been kept remarkably low. For example, a bag of a tailored line of Castillo seeds costs the farmer around $7. Each bag holds approximately 4,000 seeds, and it takes about two bags of seeds to plant a hect- are. In comparison, using tissue selection, a method of essentially cloning rust-resistant plants, which is happening now in some areas of Central America, a single seedling costs about $1.50, a huge expense and outside the financial means of most small farmers. Cost is, as would be expected, an enormous obstacle to fighting The Cenicafé research center employs hundreds of scientists who work on challenges facing Colombia's coffee farmers like rust, the berry borer, and climate change. 82 barista magazine B o o k 5 5 - 8 8 . i n d d 8 2 Book 55-88.indd 82 3 / 1 9 / 1 4 1 0 : 1 0 P M 3/19/14 10:10 PM

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