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Corresponding author: Carol Gonsalves. APS net Features. July Papaya vendors routinely sell Rainbow and other papaya varieties at farmers markets, small grocery stores and supermarkets in Hawaii. Seen here, a showcase at the popular Hilo bay farmers market on the island of Hawaii. Rainbow is the premier example of a genetically engineered horticultural crop that made it to market. It is a dream come true for scientists who wished to provide a virus-resistant papaya cultivar for the people of Hawaii.

But it is also a dream come true for farmers who had lost so much papaya production to Papaya ringspot virus PRSV that they were "almost broke already! One of the farmers mused, "Rainbow, the only hope. Gonsalves, a professor in the Department of Plant Pathology at Cornell University at the time he helped develop, test, and commercialize the genetically engineered Rainbow and SunUp PRSV-resistant papaya varieties, and his wife Carol Gonsalves, who worked in his laboratory as a volunteer, decided it was imperative to go beyond the scope of plant pathology in order to measure whether farmers in their home state of Hawaii would adopt the transgenic varieties.

Papaya ringspot virus is a killer. Once a plant is infected, it can never recover.

Introduction

Aphids feeding on the leaves of infected papaya trees effectively transmit the virus within seconds of probing on healthy trees. Symptoms begin to appear in about three weeks after infection. Young seedlings die quickly and never grow to produce fruit.

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Older trees develop yellowed leaves. They produce smaller and smaller fruit and are doomed to a slow death. The viral epidemic that occurred in Puna could not be stemmed by a statewide effort to remove all the infected trees in the area. Looking up into the canopy of a healthy, productive papaya tree left versus one that is infected with Papaya ringspot virus right. Effect of rapid virus spread through commercial fields. A healthy commercial papaya field in Puna, on the verge of the viral epidemic in A.

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Many papaya fields were abandoned by papaya farmers B and C. Rapid transmission of Papaya ringspot virus to all of the Puna papaya farm areas occurred within two years of the discovery of the virus in a Puna field. Source: Gonsalves, C. Debut of Rainbow in During the planning stage, C. The latter, who were working with the PAC, were helpful in advising us on how to obtain the list of commercial papaya farmers through the process provided by the Freedom of Information Act FOIA 7. The abovementioned core group provided essential information and help concerning the farmers, farming practices, and cultural considerations, for a broader understanding of the Hawaii papaya industry.

Visits were made to all of the farming locations in Puna so that a survey questionnaire could be written, decisions on sampling methods could be made, and a pre-test of the survey could be done.

Many of the farms had been abandoned after they were overcome by the virus, and the farmers most of whom lease rather than own farmlands were no longer actively farming. Other farms were in isolated or difficult-to-reach areas. HASS and other industry personnel estimated that there were only about active farmers in the state of Hawaii. After discussing this problem with the manager of the PAC, he suggested that a reapplication be made through FOIA for the list of farmers who had registered to use transgenic seeds when they became available.

In his estimation, this list would include all currently active papaya farmers. Thus, the names and addresses of farmers, of whom resided on the island of Hawaii with of these farming in Puna, was subsequently received. Note: At the time of the interview, one of the Puna-based farmers had re-located his papaya farm to the Hamakua Coast in an effort to escape the virus. Diligent efforts were made to contact all of the farmers in Puna, first by telephone and if there was no response or if no telephone number was available, by letter.

Many of the farmers could not be located either by telephone or by letter, and it was not known whether or not they still lived in the area. Of the farmers who were contacted, only a few turned down the opportunity to be interviewed. All of the interviews were done by C. Gonsalves with questions asked in a consistent manner. Generally, a day of telephone calling, setting up interviews and obtaining directions to homes or other locations alternated with a full day of interviews.


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Sometimes the first interview started at a. Times and locations of interviews were at the discretion of the farmer. When evening interviews were scheduled along isolated, unlit roads, a reconnaissance trip was taken during the day, to assure success in locating the house at night.

Introduction

Some of the attempts at finding a home were challenging and amusing. The interviewer drove in the general vicinity for some time, scanning the landscape for a house with five tall pine trees, and was chagrined to find that the homeowner had five small evergreen plants in the yard. Another farmer insisted he could be found sitting under a mango tree in the middle of a "camp" of houses, but on the day of the interview it was raining and not a soul was sitting under the tree.

All data were collected during three extended visits to Hawaii from June to September, Farmers were characterized as having adopted the use of the transgenic variety if they had planted seeds of the variety Rainbow between May 1, when they became available and the end of the survey period. Of the 93 respondents, 92 had prepared to receive the free seeds by attending a mandatory education session or watching a video about transgenic papayas and by signing a sublicensing form. Results that may be of interest to this readership appear below. These results are drawn from Gonsalves 2 and Gonsalves, Lee, and Gonsalves 3 , which report further details.

Of these:. Farms in the Kapoho area of Puna were most severely damaged by Papaya ringspot viru s. At the time of the interviews farmers were actively transforming the landscape from one with fields of infected trees background, yellow trees , to one where the virus-susceptible Kapoho solo were being cut down and replaced by the virus-resistant Rainbow foreground , and finally to lush fields of Rainbow that were bearing fruit background, green trees.

The most frequent responses centered on the lack of farmer preparation multiple responses allowed :. Due perhaps to the special value of the Rainbow seeds, farmers experimented in establishing Rainbow seedlings in pots or trays prior to transplanting them out to the field; this was in contrast to the traditional practice of sowing about 15 seeds directly into the planting hole to ensure survival of direct seeded plants from destruction by mice, birds, slugs, pathogens, water damage, and other pests.

Since the earliest adopters were in their first four months of harvest, no annual harvest data were collected. Thus, the year corresponding to the reported historical acres occurred between when Papaya ringspot virus first entered the Puna area, and on through , by which time all respondents had observed Papaya ringspot virus in their fields.

Overall, farms were as small as a one-acre plot of land, and as large as acres. Most of the farmers had either Medium or Medium-small farms that ranged from 21 to The basis for this high adoption rate is not known; however, we can speculate that they wanted to grow transgenic papayas to make up for the losses caused by Papaya ringspot virus.

Table 2. Farmer attitudes toward buying transgenic seeds and trying new transgenic varieties. The primary qualification by respondents was that the price of the seed should be "reasonable. The tenor of farmer responses although no data was taken was that they had a superior product and they wanted consumers to know it.


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Farmers who were not in favor of labeling thought that labeling was not necessary and that papaya should be marketed according to the quality of the fruit. Interesting comments from two of the eleven farmers who were not in favor of labeling were that mislabeled fruit could cause a problem in the marketplace.

An example would be the problem caused when a fruit is expected to be yellow-fleshed such as the transgenic Rainbow but is found to be red-fleshed, like the nontransgenic Sunrise variety. Ten of the eleven farmers who were not sure about the idea of labeling had no comment, and one felt that labeling is too much work for the farmer. Farmers endured the scourge of Papaya ringspot virus a full six years, from to , before Rainbow and SunUp were offered as a solution to their problem.

The promise of a papaya that could remain healthy via engineered virus resistance was a hope that in truth became a reality for farmers who adopted these high tech varieties 4,5. Moreover, the virus-resistant Rainbow, a hybrid between transgenic red-fleshed SunUp and the traditional yellow-fleshed Kapoho solo, is sweeter and has greater production than Kapoho solo and has inherited the yellow flesh of Kapoho solo, a trait much desired by the industry 1,4,5. The average farm price for fresh papaya was 25 cents per pound in , when the virus first began infecting trees in Puna.

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However, due to sharp losses in the availability of papaya caused by the burgeoning viral epidemic, farm prices increased yearly, until it peaked at By this time, Hawaii produced an annual 20 million pounds less fruit than in In the July 12, HASS report, preliminary data showed that farmers were receiving 37 cents for each pound of fruit sold during the month of June The price fluctuates based on the supply and demand for papayas, and basically is the price that farmers who contract to sell to the packing houses receive.

Independent non-contracted farmers might receive a lower farm price; however, due to their farm efficiencies, large quantities of production, higher quality fruit with higher pack out, and generally, a guaranteed market, these independent farmers have a positive advantage. Much of this data has been reviewed in-depth by Gonsalves, et al.

Are farmers still enthusiastic about growing this variety six years after Rainbow was introduced? The answer is clearly "Yes!


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William and Catherine Julian grow only Rainbow papaya on their acre farm, producing three to four million pounds a year. Willie carefully manages both fallow and producing lands and does his own handling and packing with the aid of 13 employees. Cathy has a full time off-farm job, but also helps with the farm work as time permits.

Weekly, all papaya destined for off-island sales are shipped to produce wholesalers on Oahu via Young Brothers barge service. The Julians receive 25 cents per pound of fruit sold. July Young Brothers barge service provides a crucial commercial connection between the Hawaiian islands A.

Farmers drive to the dock to have their shipments weighed and loaded into containers. About 24 farmers ship a combined weight of , pounds of papaya from Hilo to Oahu weekly B. Close up of containers loaded with papayas C.