In the year 1990, Rosemary came to Costa Rica from Colombia, where she worked previously in an agricultural research institution (CIAT, Cali, Colombia), with two sacks of seed of the grass Brachiaria dictyoneura. This grass, the original seed of which was collected in Kenya, had been selected by the Tropical Pastures Program (TPP) at CIAT in a series of regional trials all over Latin America, for its adaptability to the acid, infertile soils of the tropical lowlands of this region. However, at that time, there was no commercial production of the seed of this grass. One of it’s attributes is that it forms a very effective association with the tropical forage legume Arachis pintoi. The association of Brachiaria dictyoneura with Arachis pintoi is almost indestructible. Even when severely over-grazed, burned or otherwise mistreated, it comes back vigorously at the beginning of each rainy season, and supports high weight gains of the cattle grazing on it. It is also quite tolerant of dry periods of up to 6 months. Arachis pintoi is a legume which has been shown to fix over 50% of it’s nitrogen when in association with a grass, it has high digestibility and protein content, and persists under grazing. No commercial sexual seed of this legume was being produced at that time either. As Rosemary’s background is in biological nitrogen fixation, it seemed to her at the time, that to produce seed of these two plants (Brachiaria dictyoneura and Arachis pintoi) would be a way to ensure that farmers, and their cattle, benefit from the use of this free source of nitrogen.
For this reason, in the year 1990, with the help of an agronomist from the Ministry of Agriculture, Horacio Chi Chan, who is now a member of the Board of Trustees of Fudesemillas, she selected six farms on which to plant pastures of Brachiaria dictyoneura. The contract with the farmers allowed them to graze the pastures for 9 months of each year, and then remove the cattle to allow the grass to flower so that Rosemary and her team of workers could harvest the seed. This grass flowers and the seed matures in a very synchronised way, and in this region of Costa Rica harvest date is nearly always on or around June 21st. In Brazil, the date is 21st December.
Unfortunately the seed of Brachiaria dictyoneura is particularly prone to enter into dormancy, which means that although it is alive, it does not germinate. Due in part to Rosemary’s experience in Soil Microbiology she was able to develop a method to overcome dormancy in the seed of this grass. She has patented this method, and it is now being used under license by several companies in Mexico and Brazil.
Initially we harvested the seed manually.
MANUAL HARVEST 2007
To help small farmers harvest their own seed, we have written an instruction manual in Spanish, in collaboration with The Ministry of Agriculture.
GUIDE FOR MANUAL SEED HARVEST IN SPANISH
We have made many attempts to mechanise the harvest. In 2001, we used a combine harvester successfully near David in Panamá. However, the land around San Isidro del General in Costa Rica is not flat enough for the use of such large machinery.
MECHANISED HARVEST, PANAMÁ, 2001
So, in 2008 we imported a mechanical harvester made in Italy which is similar to the old-fashioned horse-drawn reaper-binders used to harvest wheat. However, this machine is not really ideal for harvesting this grass, because the stems are too weak and the “stooks” flop over in the binder mechanism and have to be helped manually to pass through the machine onto the ground.
MECHANICAL HARVEST 2008
HARVESTING BRACHIARIA DICTYONEURA WITH A REAPER-BINDER
In 2011 we imported a hand-held seed harvester and tested it. It was semi-successful but is very hard to hold up high enough, because the stems of Brachiaria dictyoneura are much longer than those of the Canadian native grasses the machine was developed for.
HAND HELD SEED HARVESTER 2011
In 2012 we finally managed to adapt some machinery to harvest Brachiaria dictyoneura using a scythe and a thresher.
SEMI-MECHANISED HARVEST USING SCYTHE AND THRESHER
The seed we produce of Brachiaria dictyoneura is recognised by local farmers as being the best quality seed available.
BRACHIARIA DICTYONEURA SEED READY FOR PACKAGING
We also sell seeds of other grass and legume species. Contact us for details. Due to the permits needed for export of seed, if you wish to import them, you must first obtain a phytosanitary import permit from your country. We can supply you with an invoice for you to be able to do this.