Microscopic worms present a serious threat to coffee trees. Two species of nematode have been wreaking havoc on coffee trees by boring into their roots, causing an estimated loss of 15 percent coffee production. But researchers from the University of Leeds have created a new detection method to help identify the devastating pest.
According to Science Daily, the nematodes live in the soil and feast on the roots of coffee trees but leave “no specific symptoms” of their presence, making their detection all the more difficult. To compound things, the miscroscopic worms also feed on the roots of banana and black pepper trees, which are often interspersed with coffee plants to diversify a farm’s income source.
Working with Nestlé agronomists, the University of Leeds researchers took soil samples from 28 coffee plantations in Brazil, Vietnam, and Indonesia—six, 14, and eight, respectively—to test for the presence of the nematodes. When analyzing the samples for nematode DNA, they found “damaging levels wherever they looked.” In short, the test involves wetting soil samples, running them through a sieve and a centrifuge to find the prevalence of the parasite (but if you want the real deal methodology, it can be found here).
This new test may go a long way in helping to identify how widespread the nematode problem is, which according to Peter Urwin, a professor of plant nematology and the University of Leeds, is significant: “We found widespread evidence of these parasites. The exact species vary by country and looking at soil samples, I can tell the difference between Vietnam and Brazil or Indonesia. The sad fact is that wherever we take samples, we find plant-parasitic nematodes, which are hugely damaging to coffee crops.”
After identification, the next step is to find a way of dealing with the nematode infestation. This new method offers no solution, but is a step toward finding one. With nearly an 18 percent increase in production on the line, finding a solution may prove necessary for the economic health and future of coffee farms.
*top image from “Always An Exception”: Inside The Rising Tide Of Indonesian Coffee by Evan Gilman.