by Alina Iliadis
‘Olena, or turmeric, is a culinary and medicinal plant grown primarily in subtropical and tropical regions but used by cultures across the globe. In Hawai‘i, turmeric is a specialty crop valued at more than $1M, with significant interest in organic cultivation.
Although local producers are faced with various challenges, such as limitations on production space and fertilizer and pesticide use, these issues can be mitigated by optimizing a regenerative production system, such as intercropping.
A new project, funded by the Western SARE, aims to investigate the effects of intercropping on organic turmeric agroecosystems. As a Master’s candidate in the Dept. of Tropical Plant and Soil Sciences, I have been examining the potential benefits of incorporating mixed-species cover crops by reporting observations seen in biomass production, ecosystem function (weed suppression, CO2 respiration, and nematode populations), and turmeric yield. As participatory agricultural research, I am directly collaborating with Kevin Flanagan of Aloha Turmeric, under the direction of Ted Radovich of CTAHR’s Sustainable and Organic Farming Systems (SOAP) lab.
We will assess five cover crop mix treatments, each composed of a grass, a legume, and a broadleaf species, and contain species both reported and unreported in agricultural production in Hawai‘i. This will be done over the course of two turmeric seasons in order to determine whether 1) any cover crop mixes outperform others, and 2) any individual species demonstrate greater success than others across treatment mixes.
Our ultimate goal is to communicate the results to local growers in order to help inform sound production strategies, thus creating positive impacts on economic, environmental, and social dimensions. Our management recommendations will hopefully lead to increased productivity and profitability through improved turmeric yields and reduced system inputs (e.g. fertilizers and pesticides). Reducing inputs could also have far-reaching impacts on the health of our agroecosystems, whose integrity is vital to maintaining resilience in the face of climate change. In a broader sense, this project strives to contribute toward rebuilding a system of agricultural self-sufficiency in Hawai‘i through the strengthening of this important industry.
As someone who has a goal of becoming a producer in the future, it’s been such an educational opportunity to be able to work on a farmer-led, participatory agricultural research project. I’m eager to interpret our results, and hope that our findings can translate easily to local production endeavors.