AN ECONOMIC STUDY OF THE PRODUCTION AND
MARKETING OF POTATOES IN COSTA RICA
R. E. L. Greene
Agricultural Experiment Station -
This study was made at the invitation of the Office of Planning and
Coordination of the Ministry of Agriculture and Industries of Costa
Rica. The assignment was completed under the University of Florida
-- Costa Rica contract with STICA.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
INTRODUCTiON ..I ...... ..... ..a .............. .................. 1
CHARACTERISTICS OF THE POTATO ENTERPRISE,4..*... 6................ 1
Varieties of Potatoes ... .... ..... .. ....... .. ............. .. 1
Diseases and Insects .............. ...... .................. 2
Period of Harvest and Annual Production........................ 3
Per capital production, utilization and value. .............. 4
Exports and imports .................................... 4
Price of Potatoes at Retail.................................. .. 5
PRODUCTION PRACTICES AND COST OF PRODUCING POTATOES IN THE
CARTAGO AREA ...................................................... 6
Materials Used in Producing Potatoes............................ 6
Seed ....... ........................ ......................... 6
Fertilizer.................................. ............... 9
Materials for diseases and insect control..................... 10
Labor Used in Producing and Harvesting Potatoes................ 10
Costs and Returns per Manzana .................................. 10
Reducing cost of production.................................. 11
MARKETING PRACTICES AND METHOD OF SELLING POTATOES................. 15
Assembling, Washing and Preparing Potatoes for the Market....... 15
Costs to Buyers in Assembling and Preparing Potatoes for
the Market..................................................... 17
Variation in Prices Paid Growers for Potatoes and Retail
Prices............................... ............................ 20
PROBLEMS OF PRODUCTION AND MARKETING............................... 20
RECOMMENDATIONS. .................. ................... .............. 21
SUMMA Y........... ... ............. ..... ... ... ... ....... ..... 23
APPENDIX A ..... ........... .................. .... ............. 25
AN ECONOMIC STUDY OF THE PRODUCTION ANn MARKETING
OF POTATOES IN COSTA RICA.I/
R. E. L. Greene
Florida Agricultural Experiment Stations
In 1958 the Ministry of Agriculture and Industries of Costa Rica re-
quested an economic study of the production and marketing of potatoes. The purpose
of the study was to obtain information to aid in increasing efficiency of produc-
tion and to improve internal and export marketing practices.
It was impossible in a period of two months to assemble detailed states
tics relating to the potato industry or to make a thorough analysis of the prob-
lems involved. Instead an effort was made to make a general survey of the indus-
try in order to identify some of the problems and adjustments needed to improve
efficiency of production and the marketing system. This was done by (1) analyz-
ing available data (2) traveling in the potato area and (3) talking with potato
producers, buyers, and public officials./ Of special help was a study made by
the office of Planning and Coordination giving labor and material requirements and
the cost of producing potatoes in the Cartago area in the 1957-58 season (4).
CHARACTERISTICS OF THE POTATO ENTERPRISE
The main area for the production of potatoes is located in the North
Central Dairy Region (6). The crop is grown principally on the Southwest slope
of the Irazd Mountain at elevations of 1700 to 3000 meters above sea level. A
small production area is located on the slope of the South Central Mountain Range
in the vicinity of Zarcero.
Varieties of Potatoes
The bulk of potatoes grown in Costa Rica are produced from three native
varieties: Estrella, a white potato; Morada Blanca, a white potato with dark
eyes; and Morada Negra, a dark red skin potato. Estimates would indicate that
about 50 percent of the total production from these varieties is from Estrella, 30
percent from Morada Blanca and 20 percent from Morada Negra. Minor native varie-
1/ Acknowledgements: The writer completed a two-month assignment, (July and
August, 1958), in Costa Rica at the invitation of the Office of Planning and Co-
ordination, the Ministry of Agriculture and Industries, to undertake an economic
analysis of the potato industry. Appreciation is due Sr. Alvaro Rojas, Head of
the Office of Planning and Coordination, for placing cooperators at his disposal
to help obtain the necessary data. The assignment was completed under the Uni-
versity of Florida--Costa Rica Contract with STICA.
2/ Refers to literature cited in the appendix.
ties are Amarilla and RFsada..
The two most important improved varieties of potatoes being grown are
Kennebec and Harford. The Ontaria and Gtiter varieties are grown by a few farmers.
Only a very small proportion of the total production of potatoes in Costa Rica is
from improved varieties. Both producers and buyers seem to be pleased especially
with the Kennebec and Harford varieties. Yield from improved varieties is normal-
ly one-fourth to one-third or more than that from native varieties and they bring
a premium in the market of 50 to 150 colones per carga. Factors limiting the ex-
pansion of these varieties are the very small supplies of planting seed available
and the very high cost per manzana for improved seed.
Diseases and Insects
Potatoes in Costa Rica are subject to damage by various diseases and in-
sects. The occurrence and destruction of diseases and insects depend upon the
weather and the conditions under which the crop is grown. General recommendations
for the control of the more common plant diseases and insects are given in the pub
location "Recommendaciones para Cultivo de Papa en Nicaragua, Costa Rica y Panama"
No information is available on amount of value of crop losses due to
diseases or insects but observations would indicate they are quite large with plant
diseases causing the major share. Potato diseases of greatest economic importance
include the following:
1. Late blight, caused by the fungus Phytophthora infestans, is the most
common and destructive disease of potatoes in Costa Rica. Locally the disease is
known by the name of "mancha", "tiz6n", "chamusco" or "chasparrea".
2. Brown rot (Bacterium solanacearum) or bacterial wilt causes consider
able damage to potatoes especially at elevations below 2200 meters. Approximately
a third to a half of the potatoes are produced below this elevation. This disease
is known as "maya" or "dormidera".
3. Rhizoctonia is caused by a soil-inhabiting fungus commonly called
Rhizoctonia solani. It causes a black scale to form on the potato which gives it
a bad appearance and reduces its commercial value.
4. "Torbo" is an important disease of potatoes in some areas of Costa
Rica. Although the disease has been found in the Irazd highland at more than 2500
meters elevation, it occurs more frequently at lower levels in warmer soil of about
1500 meters of altitude, especially in the area of Pacayas and Cot (9).
5. Blackleg (Erwinia carotovora) is the most common bacterial disease of
the potato. It causes a soft rot of the stem of the plant and may spread and affect
the tubers. Normally this disease is not very serious in potato fields in Costa Ri-
ca but it may cause considerable damage where conditions are favorable for its de-
velopment. The local term for the disease is "Erwinia".
6. There are a number of virus (virosa) diseases present in potato fields
especially different mosaic diseases and leafroll. Virus diseases are spread by
transferring (mainly by insects) the virus present in the sap of a diseased plant
to a healthy one. Virus diseases reduce both yield and quality of potatoes grown
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and also contribute to the degeneration of the varieties,
The most important insects attacking the potato plants are flea beetles
(Epitrix), leaf hoppers (Empoasco), aphids and leaf miners. The local names for
these insects are "pulguita", "cigarritas", "afidos" and "miradores", respectively.
The main insects damaging tubers are wireworm and cut worms ("gusano-alambre" and
Period of Harvest and Annual Production
Some potatoes are harvested each month of the year in Costa Rica but the
major harvest is in September, October and November (first planting or Winter crop),
The second important harvest period is in March, April and May (second planting or
In 1950, according to the Census of Agriculture, potatoes were grown on
729 farms (Table 1) (2). Manzanas harvested totaled 2,086 and production 153,520
quintals (8,529 cargas). This was an average of 2.86 manzanas per farm with an
average production per manzana of 74 quintals (4.10 cargas). Eighty-three percent
of the total production came from the first planting.
Table 1.--Farms Growing Potatoes, Area Harvested and Total Production
by Provinces, Costa Rica, 1950.
: :Proportion of total of allfanms
Province : Farms : Area : Total : Farms :Manzanas : Total
: growing : harvested:production: growing :harvested:production
Number Manzanas Quintals Percent Percent Percent
San Jose 83 89 4566 11.4 4.3 3,0
Alajuela 143 263 13930 19.6 12.6 9,1
Cartago 421 1640 130414 57.8 78.6 84.9
Heredia 18 14 572 2.6 .7 .4
Guanacaste 23 30 1471 3.2 1.4 .9
Puntarenas 39 49 2488 5.3 2.3 1.6
Limrn 2 1 79 .1 .1 .1
Total 729 2086 153520 100.0 100.0 100.0
I One manzana equals 1.727 acres.
I I One quintal equals 46 kilograms of 2.2026 American pounds each.
Source: Censo Agropecuario de 1950
Ministerio de Economia y Hacienda
Direccion General de Estadistica y Census
According to the census, only 58 percent of the farms growing potatoes
were located in the Cartagn province. However, it accounted for 79 percent of
the manzanas harvested and 85 percent of all production. The Alajuela province
contained one-fifth of the farms growing potatoes but accounted for only 13 per-
cent of the manzanas harvested and 9 percent of the total production.
The area utilized for the production of potatoes in 1955 totaled 2183
manzanas (3). The estimated production was 194,089 quintals (10,783 cargas) or an
average production of 90 quintals (4.94 cargas) per manzana. Estimated production
in 1955 was 26 percent more than that reported for 1950. Eighty-three percent of
the production was from the first crop and 17 percent from the second crop.
Per capital production, utilization and value.--Data on production of pota
toes and population in Costa Rica (1,055,200 inhabitants on December 31, 1957) (7)
would indicate a production of only about 20 pounds per capital. Assuming that 30
percent of the total crop is used for seed, fed to livestock or culled because of
diseases or other reasons, the amount available for annual consumption would be 14
pounds per capital
Sale of potatoes to processors accounts for only a small proportion of
the total sales. Data from potato chip manufacturers in San Jos4 would indicate
that they use about 5,000 quintals of potatoes a year or 3 to 4 percent of the total
amount available for human consumption.
In terms of global value, potatoes account for only about 1 percent of the
value of agriculture products at the present time (Table 2). However, if the per
capital consumption of potatoes could merely be doubled, consumption would still be
low but, at the present population level, the nation would then utilize more than
375,000 quintals per year. Also, Costa Rican potatoes should be able to compete in
Central American markets if an effective trade union between these nations is formed
(1). An increase in production of potatoes to accomplish these objectives would add
an additional million dollars to the annual income of potato farmers. To accomplish
this, however, the quality of potatoes produced will have to be improved and the
relative price reduced to make them more competitive with other foods in the local
markets and with potatoes from other areas in foreign markets.
Table 2.--Global Value of Total Agricultural Production and Potatoes,
in Millions of Colones, Costa Rica, 1950 to 1956.
: Value of production in millions of colones
: : Potatoes
Year : Total Agricultural : Percent of total
: production : Amount : of all products
1950 652.0 6.8 1.04
1951 692.0 7.0 1.01
1952 749.7 7.3 .97
1953 803.3 7.5 .93
1954 816.8 7.8 .95
1955 849.1 8.1 .95
1956 735.7 8.5 1.16
Source: Seccidn Ingreso Nacional, Departamento de Estudios Econdmi-
cos, Banco Central of Costa Rica. Note: 01 million equals
$150,000 USA. Data for 1957 not available.
Exports and imports.--Practically all of the potatoes produced in Costa
Rica are consumed in the country and only a very small quantity is imported. For
the five year period, 1953-1957, potatoes were exported only in 1956 and 1957
(Table 3). The largest exports were in 1956 but the amount was only 1,034 quintals.
- 5 -
The largest imports were also in 1956 when 2,920 quintals were imported. However,
2,000 quintals of this amount were seed potatoes from Maine and New York brought
in by the Consejo Nacional de Producci4n f-r sale to farmers.
Table 3.--Fxports and Imports of Potatoes, Costa Rica, 1953 to 1957.
: Exports : Imports
Year : : : :
: Amount Value : Anunt Value
Quintals Dollars Quintals Dollars
1953 530 3675
1954 716 4198
1955 730 4205
1956 1,034 5104 2920 19543
1957 470 1694 1 18
Source: Comercio Exterior de Costa Rica, Direcci'n General de Es-
tadIstica y Census.
Price of Potatoes at Retail
As indicated earlier, per capital consumption of potatoes is low. One of
the reasons for the low consumption is the relative high price of potatoes. There
are also less expensive root substitutes, such as yuca, which are quite plentiful
on the market.
During the period 1952 to 1957 the average annual retail price of pota-
toes per pound ranged from .347 clones in 1946 to .474 colones in 1955 (Table 4).
During the same period, price of yuca per pound varied from .250 to .316 colones
and the price of rice from .680 to .740. Based on Costa Rica's labor code of 15
cents (1.00) per hour for common labor and the average retail prices in 1957, it
required .37 hurs of labor to buy a pound of potatoes, .28 hours to purchase a
pound of yuca and .74 hours to buy a pound of rice. In the United States a pound
of potatoes can be bought with .05 hours of labor.
Price of potatoes is not only relatively high but it fluctuates widely
during the year. As stated earlier, the major proportion of the annual production
is harvested at two periods. Farmers normally sell their potatoes within two
months after they are harvested. The fluctuation in supply results in a wide var-
iation in prices during the year both at the farm and retail level.
Figure 1 shows monthly retail price indexes of potatoes, yuca and rice in
San Joc4 from February 1952 to June 1958. The monthly price of potatoes varied
widely but there was little change in the price of rice. In general, potato prices
followed a similar pattern from year to year usually being lowest in September, Oc-
tober and November when the harvest was greatest and reached a peak in the earlier
month -f the year. Prices, for undetermined reasons, were exceptionally high in
1955 and again in 1958. Data are not available on prices paid to farmers for pota
toes. However, the relative fluctuation in farm prices is usually greater than in
retail price (at least, this is true in the United States).
Table 4.--Average Annual Price per Pound at Retail and Index of Price
per Pound for Potatoes, Yucas and Rice, San Jose, Costa Rica,
: Retail price per pound in : Index of price per pound
: colones : (Feb.-Dec. 1952 = 100)
Year : : : : : :
: Potatoes : Yucas Rice : Potatoes: Yucas : Rice
1952 0.362 0.250 0.689 100 100 100
1953 0.347 0.268 0.697 96 107 101
1954 0.357 0.265 0.700 99 106 102
1955 0.474 0.316 0.680 131 126 99
1956 0.360 0.314 0.691 99 126 100
1957 0.346 0.286 0.740 96 114 107
Source: Indice de Precios al por Menor, Ministry of Economics and
Finance, Costa Rica, Monthly Reports.
PRODUCTION PRACTICES AND COST OF PRODUCING POTATOES
IN THE CARTAGO AREA.
In the Cartago area, potatoes are grown in the districts of San Rafael,
Cot, Potrero Cerrado, Tierra Blanca, Llano Grande, Carmen, Pacayas and Santa RDsa.
The largest producing districts are Tierra Blanca, Llano Grande and Potrero Grande.
The topography of the land on which potatoes are grown varies from gen-
erally rolling to very steep (Figure 2). On most farms all operations are per-
formed by hand except breaking the land, preparing it for planting and hauling the
potatoes from the field. Oxen are the source of power on most farms but a few
farmers own or hire tractors which are used for land preparation.
Production practices vary mainly with elevation, the season at which the
crop is planted and the varieties grown. The crop harvested in September, October
and November is referred to as the Winter crop. This crop is planted in May, June
and July. The crop harvested in March, April, May and June is referred to as the
Summer crop. Some potatoes are harvested each month of the year but the main
harvest is the Winter crop with the Summer crop being of second importance.
Labor and materials and data on cost of production were obtained from
potato farmers in the Cartago area for the 1957-58 season (4). Records were ob-
tained from 17 growers who grew a Winter crop and 18 growers who grew a Summer crop.
Average manzanas per grower was 6.7 and 5.9 for the two groups, respectively. The
discussion in this section is based on the data obtained in this study.
Materials Used in Producing Potatoes
The main items in producing potatoes are seed, fertilizers and spray
Seed.--Almost without exception all farmers plant whole seed, 1 to 2
ounces in size. They seldom purchase new seed but select seed potatoes year after
year from their own production. Selection is normally made at the time the pota-
toes are classified after harvesting. They are planted in rows about 30 inches
apart with the plants spaced eight inches between the hills.
I ,' '
J M M J S N J MM J S N J M M J S NJ M M J S N J M M J SN JM M J S N J M M JS N
1952 1953 1954 1955 1956 1957 1958
FIG.I INDEXES OF THE PRICES OF POTATOES, YUCAS AND RICE AT RETAIL, SAN JOSE,
COSTA RICA, 1952-1958 (FEBRUARY TO DECEMBER 1952 = 100)
-------.tr -- .
Fig. 2.--TYPE OF LAND ON WHICH POTATOES ARE GROWN.
The land on which potatoes are grown varies from generally
rolling to very steep.
The average rate of seeding for farmers from which records are obtained
was 2.7 cargas per manzana (one carga equals 1,800 pounds).for the Winter crop and
2.0 cargas for the Summer crop. Total yield per manzana for the two crops was 13.1
and 9.7 cargas, respectively. The ratio of potatoes harvested to seeds planted was
4.85 to 1 for each crop. This is only one-half to one-third of the ratio in North
Farmers say they do not purchase new seed for planting because the cost
is more than they can afford to pay. Inspected seed purchased through the National
Consejo de Produccidn run 1 to 4 ounces in size. Because of the larger size, it
requires up to twice the volume of purchase seed to plant a manzana as when farmers
select seed from their own production. This increases the cost and partly accounts
for the reason why farmers feel they cannot afford to purchase new planting seed.
Fertilizer.--All farmers from which data were obtained used fertilizers
on their potatoes. A wide variety of analyses was used. The most important anal-
yses were 8-30-5 and 8-30-6. On the Winter crop, 8-30-6 fertilizer was used on 34
percent of the area and 8-30-5 fertilizer on 25 percent (Table 5). On the Summer
crop, 74 percent of the manzanas were fertilized with an 8-30-5 fertilizer. In ad-
dition to a complete fertilizer, about 50 percent of the farmers applied a small
amount of nitrogen to their potatoes in the form of foliar sprays.
Table 5.--Kind and Amount of Fertilizer Used per Manzana on Potatoes,
Winter and Summer Crops, Cartago Area, Costa Rica,
: : Percent of total
Analysis : Pounds per manzana :Farmers : Manzanas
: for farmers using : using : fertilized
5-30-8 1591 11.8 9.7
8-24-6 2000 5.9 3.5
8-24-8 2000 11.8 15.9
8-30-5 1409 35.3 25.4
8-30-6 1568 35.3 33.6
10-30-6 1500 5.9 7.5
16-20-0 1200 5.9 4.4
Average or total 1589 111.9' 100.0
6-30-5 1330 22.2 16.8
6-30-8 1760 11.1 4.7
8-24-6 700 5.5 2.5
8-30-5 1800 55.6 74.1
8-30-6 1759 5.6 1.9
Average or total 1668 100.0 100.0
to more than 100 because some farmers used
than one analysis.
Materials for disease and insect control.--In the production of potatoes,
all farmers make some effort to c-ntrol plant diseases (mainly late blight or
"mancha") but many farmers do not attempt to control insects. All materials are
applied as sprays, normally with a five gallon knapsack hand sprayer (Figure 3). A
few farmers use sprayers equipped with motors. The kind and severity of plant
diseases vary with elevation, season of production and variety. Normally more
sprayings are required to control diseases of potatoes on the Winter crop than on
the Summer crop.
All farmers who grew a Winter crop of potatoes used fungicides but only
50 percent used insecticides. Various kinds and combinations of fungicides were
used such as Ditano, Manzate and Parzate. An average of 7.5 sprayings were applied
to the Winter crop and the amount of material applied per manzana per spraying was
10.9 lbs. The Summer crop was sprayed an average of 6.7 times with an average ap-
lication per spraying of 8.9 pounds of material per.manzana. Total amount of mate-
rials per manzana was 82 and 60 pounds for the two crops, respectively.
Labor Used in Producing and Harvesting Potatoes
Since most operations in potatoes are performed by hand, hours of labor
per manzana are high (Figure 4). Farmers who supplied data for the 1957-58 season
estimated they used 673 hours of man labor per manzana on the Winter crop of po-
tatoes and 646 hours on the Summer crop (Table 6). These requirements were for
farms on which only oxen were used for power and where a knapsack hand sprayer was
used for spraying.
The three operations requiring the most hours of labor were spraying,
digging and classifying the potatoes into size groups. For the Winter crop of po-
tatoes slightly over two-fifths of the labor used in production was spent in spray-
ing; one-fourth of all labor for production and harvesting was spent in spraying.
One hundred and fifty three man hours of labor were used in digging potatoes and
98 hours in classifying. A little over 8 hours of labor were used to classify a
carga of potatoes.
Man hours spent in producing the summer crop was lower than for the winter
crop largely because of the fewer hours for spraying and classifying. Control of die
eases was less of a problem for the summer crop so fewer sprayings were applied.
Yield was also lower so less time was required to classify the potatoes.
Costs and Returns per Manzana
Total cost of producing a manzana of potatoes in the 1957-58 season,
based on the estimates obtained from farmers, was 03,219 for the winter crop and
02,669 for the summer crop (Table 7). Potatoes sold per manzana (including those
saved for seed) was 11.7 and 9.3 cargas for the two crops, respectively. However,
because of the lower average value per carga for the Winter crop, (4338 and 0422
respectively) the total value per manzana for the two crops was about the same.
Net returns per manzana was 1742 for the winter cropland $1,260 for the summer crop
or (63 and $135 per carga for the tnw periods.
For both the winter and summer crops, seed accounted for about one-third
of the total cost, fertilizer, one-fifth and spray materials 12 to 15 percent. Al-
though the amount of labor used in producing potatoes was large in terms of hours,
- 11 -
Table 6.--Hours of Labor Used per Manzana for Various Operations in the
Production and Harvesting of Potatoes, Winter and Summer Crops,
Cartago irea, Costa Rica, 1957-58 Season.
Operation : Winter crop : Summer crop
: Man Oxen Man : Oxen
Cutting weeds and grass
with machette 38.7 -
1st plowing 23.3 23.3 23.0 23.0
2nd plowing 15.9 15.9 17.3 17.3
Harrowing 6.1 6.1 7.7 7.7
Boarding off land 6.2 6.2 -
Opening row 7.1 7.1 7.6 7.6
Dropping seed 23.3 21.2 -
Applying fertilizer 11.3 10.0 -
Covering row 7.1 7.1 7.5 7.5
Weeding 44.3 47.1 -
Hilling with machette 76.1 68.8
Spraying 170.4 119.5 -
Total 391.1 65.7 368..4 63.1
Dig potatoes 152.8 172.6 -
Haul to barn 31.3 31.3 37.1 37.1
Classify into size groups 98.2 68.2 -
Total 282.3 31.3 277.9 37.1
Total hours for production
and harvest 673.4 97.0 646.3 100.2
cost of labor accounted for slightly less than one-fifth of the total cost of
production. These four items accounted for 84 percent of the total expenses for
winter potatoes and 86 percent for summer potatoes.
Value per hour placed on labor in calculating cost of production was ap-
proximately .82 colones for winter potatoes and .78 colones for summer potatoes..
Returns to labor per manzana was 1,3V7 and $1,761 for the two crops or a return
per hour of approximately 1.94 and 2.72 colones, respectively.
Reducing cost of production.--There appears to be little opportunity to
reduce total cost of producing potatoes except in reducing hours of labor used and
thus cost of labor. In fact, a higher level of practices probably should be used
to increase total production. Increasing the level of practices would result in
an increase in total cost but the corresponding increase in output should be large
enough that cost per unit would be decreased and therefore net returns increased.
As indicated earlier, the ratio of production to seeds planted in only 4.85 to 1.
In the United States this ratio runs from 10 to 15 to one.
Hours of labor used in growing potatoes could be reduced if farmers would
use simple machinery whenever possible. The two main operations that offer the
- 12 -
r. ', ".: -. *S .a'. ,
Fig. 3.-- SPRAYING POTATOES.
A five gallon knapsack sprayer is normally used to spray
potatoes. A few farmers used sprayers equipped with a
- 13 -
4<. i '
Fig. 4.--HILLING, DIGGING AND DIVIDING POTATOES INTO SIZE GROUPS.
With the exception of land preparation, most all operations on
the production of potatoes are performed by hand.
- 14 -
Table 7.--Costs and Returns per Manzana and per Carga for Potatoes,
Winter and Summer Harvest, Cartago Area, Costa Rica,
: Amount per Amount per : Percent of
: manzana : carga sold : Total
Item : Winter : Summer : Winter: Summer :Winter :Summer
: cr : crop : crop : crop : crop : cro
Land rent 194.35 144.86 16.61 15.58 6.0 5.4
Seed 1062.65 841.92 90.83 90.53 33.0 31.6
Fertilizer 603.47 611.14 51.58 65.71 18.7 22.9
Spray and materials 483.66 331.41 41.34 35.63 15.0 12.4
Cultural labor 334.19 297.90 28.56 32.03 10.7 11.2
Machine hire 21.22 31.88 1.81 3.43 .6 1.2
Gas, oil, grease and ox feed 17.32 12.96 1.48 1.39 .5 .5
Repair and maintenance 14.13 15.53 1.21 1.67 .4 .6
Depreciation 71.51 47.34 6.11 5.09 2.2 1.8
Interest on production capital 90.54 75.80 7.74 8.15 2.8 2.8
Interest on capital invested
(other than land) 21.45 14.20 1.83 1.53 .7 .5
Miscellaneous expenses 46.99 7.73 4.02 .83 1.4 .3
Total cost of growing 2961.48 2432.67 253.12 261.57 92.0 91.1
Digging labor 138.53 147.79 11.84 15.89 4.3 5.6
Classification labor 82.04 55.41 7.01 5.96 2.5 2.1
Containers 33.94 32.07 2.90 3.45 1.1 1.2
Hauling 3.22 .72 .28 .08 .1
Total cost of harvesting 257.73 235.99 22.03 25.38 8.0 8.9
Total crop cost 3219.21 2668.66 275.15 286.95 100.0 100.0
Value of crop sales 3961.37 3928.30 338.58 422.40
Net returns 742.16 1259.64 63.43 135.45
Average yield per manzana
Total 13.1 9.7
Amount sold 11.7 9.3
greatest possibility for reducing labor are spraying and classifying the potatoes
into size groups. Most farmers spray potatoes with a knapsack hand sprayer. Farmers
who used motor sprayers estimated they reduced labor requirement for spraying half
or more. They also reduced the amount of water needed to spray a manzana since a
spray of a higher concentration was normally applied. One farmer said by using a
motor sprayer he reduced his cost of spraying 20 percent. A major problem in the
use of a motor sprayer is the increased capital needed to purchase a sprayer. A
five-gallon hand sprayer cost approximately 250 colones and a motor sprayer 900 to
980 colones or about four times as much.
- 15 -
When potatoes are harvested they are divided into three size groups. At
the time classification, seed potatoes are usually selected for the next planting.
Classification is by hand. About 8 hours of man labor are required to classify a
carga of potatoes. One fanner who used a machine for classifying potatoes used
only 2.5 hours per carga. Farmers do not use equipment to classify potatoes large
ly because of the cost of the equipment. There also appears to be a prejudice on
the part of both growers and buyers to machine classification. Farmers also feel
it would be more difficult to select seed potatoes if machines were used.
MARKETING PRACTICES AND METHOD OF SELLING POTATOES
Farmers who grow potatoes in the Cartago area sell them on the wholesale
market at Cartago. Many of the sales practices are based on tradition and have
been followed for generations. The potato market operates only one day each week
and all sales are made on Sunday. Buyers visit the market to buy potatoes for sale
in San Jos4 or other markets. Buyers who buy at Cartago assemble the potatoes from
the farms, wash and prepare them for sale usually to other buyers in markets such
as San Jos4 who sell the potatoes to stores, hotels, cafes, etc., or directly to
consumers. Some buyers operate their own businesses in the larger towns. They may
buy potatoes from other buyers and also sell at wholesale and retail. In this study
it was possible to study marketing practices only to the point of first sale in the
A farmer with potatoes for sale does not bring them to the market at Car-
tago. Instead he brings a sample of 3 to 5 potatoes of each size classification he
has to offer. All sales are made on the basis of the samples (Figure 5). The
farmer shows the samples to various buyers until he receives an offer he is willing
to accept. When a sale is made, the buyer agrees to buy a stated number of cargas
of a designated size classification. The farmer is not paid for the potatoes the
day a sale is made but is paid the following Sunday. A buyer usually purchases
only the amount of potatoes he needs for the current week. The amount purchased by
individual buyers varies but it ranges from 8 to 10 cargas a week on the average
with an occasional buyer purchasing as many as 25 cargas.
Assembling, Washing and Preparing Potatoes for the Market
Potatoes are washed by the buyer before they are offered for sale in the
market. Most of the buyers have wash houses either in Cartago or in small towns in
the potato growing area. A few buyers have wash houses located in the town where
they sell potatoes such as Alajuela, for example. When a sale is made it is indi-
cated when the buyer will take delivery of the potatoes. The farmer may deliver the
potatoes to the buyer's wash house or the buyer may accept deliver at the farm or at
a designated point if it is too difficult for a truck to be driven to the seller's
farm (Figure 5). The potatoes are packed in bags supplied by the buyer. The bags
are reused until they are worn out. Normally 225 pounds are placed in a bag. The
potatoes are weighed at the farm but the weights may be rechecked at the assembly
point where the potatoes are washed. The main sales days for potatoes in San Jose
are on Tuesday and Friday. This means that Monday and Thursday are the most impor-
tant days for collecting and washing potatoes.
Potatoes are washed by hand (Figure 6). They are poured in a trough about
half full of water--800 to 900 pounds being placed in a trough at a time. Clean
water is used to wash each lot of potatoes. They remain in the water 30 to 45 min-
utes depending on the amount of dirt on them. They are stirred back and forth with
Fig. 5--SELLING POTATOES AND DELIVERING THEM TO WASH HOUSE OF BUYERS.
Potatoes are sold on the basis of samples. Normally the buyer
hires the potatoes hauled from the farm to the wash house but
they may be hauled by the farmer.
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sticks with rounded paddles on the end. When washing is completed, the potatoes are
removed from the water and placed in wire baskets. Clean water is then poured over
the baskets to rinse off any loose dirt remaining from the washing. The potatoes
are allowed to remain in the baskets for 15 to 30 minutes to allow surplus water to
drain off before they are spread out to dry. If the weather is fair, they may be
placed in the sunshine on sacks spread on the ground. In rainy weather, they are
spread on the floor in a building.
When the potatoes are dry they are picked up and placed in bags ready for
the market. The bags are the same size as those used to haul the potatoes from the
farm. They are also reused until they are w-rn out. Normally 225 pounds are placed
in a bag. Before the potatoes are put in bags, recognizably diseased and cull pota-
toes are picked out. Potatoes of odd shapes and sizes and those containing notice-
able defects are also taken out and packed in separate bags to be sold at a lower
price. The size classification of each lot of potatoes is that made by the individ
ual farmer at the time of harvest. Since classification is by hand, there is con-
siderable variation in potatoes from individual growers and also from the same
grower at different periods of the year.
The biggest market for potatoes is in San Jos4. The potatoes are trucked
from the wash houses to the market. The wholesale market operates mainly between
three and six A.M. in the morning on Tuesday and Friday. The potatoes are delivered
from the trucks to the various business firms in the market mainly by hand carts or
are carried on one's back. Some buyers have contracts to ship a given amount of po
tatoes each week to other buyers in distant towns such as Port Lim6n or Puntarenas.
Potatoes that are to be shipped are not washed because washing hastens spoilage.
Cost to Buyers in Assembling and Preparing Potatoes for the Market
Buyers who buy potatoes from farmers at Cartago and prepare them for sale
perform certain services and also incur certain risks in the marketing process.
The difference in the amount they pay the farmer for the potatoes when they buy
them and the amount they receive when they sell them must cover the costs of the
services they perform and also any gains or losses they incur. Often the difference
between the buying and selling price may be high, not because the middleman is mak-
ing an excessive profit, but because of the direct and indirect costs that are nec-
essary to cover the. services performed. If the efficiency of performing the serv-
ices could be increased the marketing margins could be decreased.
Buyers have both direct and indirect costs in assembling and preparing
potatoes for market. Direct costs include the cost of hauling the potatoes from
the farms to the wash houses and then to the market, and also the cost of washing
the potatoes. Indirect costs result from grading out potatoes that are not salable,
from placing potatoes in a lower grade and from fluctuation in market prices.
Most buyers do not own trucks. If a grower does not deliver his potatoes
to the wash house, the buyer hires them hauled. Hired trucks are also used to haul
the potatoes from the wash houses to the markets. Cost of hauling to the wash
houses varies with the distance and accessibility of the farms. The charge may be
as much as 15 colones or more per carga but it averages about 10 colones. Hauling
potatoes from the wash houses to the market averages about 8 colones per carga.
Cost of washing potatoes varies with the period of the year. It requires
from 5 to 10 hours of man labor to wash and grade a carga of potatoes. Buyers esti
- 18 -
Fig. 6.--WASHING AND PREPARING POTATOES FOR MARKET.
Potatoes are washed by hand and the cull and diseased
potatoes are picked out at the wash house of buyers.
- 19 -
mated the cost of washing a carga of potatoes at 7 to 10 colones. Some of the
labor was employed on a regular basis even though the volume of potatoes washed
varied considerably from week to week.
When the potatoes are washed the diseased and cull potatoes are graded
out, The amount removed varies depending on the season of the year and condition
of the potatoes but it ranges from 50 to 200 pounds and averages about 100 pounds
per carga. In addition to unsalable potatoes removed, those of odd shapes and
sizes and those containing noticeable defects are packed in separate bags to be
sold at a lower price. The amount of such potatoes averages about 50 pounds per
A buyer who purchases potatoes at Cartago spends approximately 25 to 30
colones per carga in assembling and preparing them for the market. This amount
includes the following items:
1, Hauling potatoes from the farm of the
grower to the wash houses
2. Hauling potatoes from the wash house
to the market
Washing, grading and bagging potatoes
10 colones per carga
8 colones per carga
10 colones per carga.
Assuming the buyer paid the fanner 500 colones f'r a carga of potatoes,
this would be a cost of 27.78 --olones per quintal. However, to determine the cost
per quintal for salable potatoes, consideration would have to be given to the
amount of loss from unsalable potatoes and necessary cash costs for assembling
and preparing them for market. Based on the data above, for a carga of potatoes
that cost 500 colones, the cost per quintal for the salable potatoes would be 31.03
colones as follows:
1. Adjusted cost of salable potatoes
17 quintals per carga
2. Hauling potatoes to wash house
(10 colones per carga-17 quintals
3. Hauling potatoes from wash house to
market (8 colones per carga-18 quintals)
4. Washing potatoes (10 colones per carga-
17 quintals salable)
The buyer would expect to sell the best grade of potatoes for about 33
colones per quintal and the lower grade for about 16 colones. His gross income
would be approximately the following:
16.5 quintals at 33 colones =
.5 quintals at 16 colones =
Under the above assumptions the buyer would realize a gross income of 52.5
colohes per carga. However, since it cost 28 colones to haul the potatoes and wash
and prepare them for market, only 24.5 colones per carga would be available to cover
other expenses, profits for buying and selling the potatoes, and any losses that
might be suffered because of fluctuation in the market price.
Variation in Prices Paid Growers for Potatoes and Retail Prices
Statements are often made by people interested in the problems of market-
ing potatoes or by potato growers in Costa Rica that would seem to indicate they be-
lieve that prices paid farmers for potatoes fluctuate widely but there is very lit-
tle change in prices at retail. Therefore, they believe when prices are low the
middleman makes unusually high profits.
Adequate data are not available to compare changes in prices paid to farm-
ers and prices at retail. A record was obtained from one buyer who bought potatoes
on the Cartago market giving the amount and value of potatoes purchased each week
that he was on the markets from January 6, 1957 to July 20, 1958. A summary of these
data gives a rough indication of the average price paid to farmers over this period.
Data in Table 8 show the average monthly price paid to farmers for pota-
toes on the Cartago market and the average retail price at San Jos4 for the period
July, 1957 to June, 1958. When the monthly prices are expressed in terms of an in-
dex based on the average price for the year, it is seen that the relative fluctua-
tions in both sets of prices were quite similar. On a percentage basis farm prices
tended to go relatively lower during the period of the year when prices were lowest
but they also rose to a higher level when prices were highest. However, each month
the direction of chnnc for the farn -nd retail price r:-'s the ,W1e.
PROBLEMS OF PRODUCTION AND MARKETING
There are many difficult problems in the production and marketing of pota-
toes in Costa Rica. Although some potatoes are harvested each month of the year the
bulk of the Winter crop is harvested in September, October and November and the
Summer crop in March, April and May. Dntatoes cannot be held on the farm more than
about two months. As a result, there is a wide fluctuation in the amount of pota-
toes offered for sale in different months of the year. This results in a wide vari-
ation in prices paid the farmer and at the retail level.
With the exception of land preparation, most of the production and harvest-
ing operations are performed by hand. Hours of labor used per manzana are high. The
topography of the land on which potatoes are grown varies from rolling to very steep;
this increases labor requirements and also the difficulty of performing operations.
Many of the soils have been used f-r potatoes for years and are infested with dis-
eases especially B. solanacearum. Whole potatoes, 1 to 2 ounces in size are used
for seed. Farmers normally select their planting seed year after year from their own
production. Much of the seed planted is infected with viruses and other diseases.
Since the diseased plants tend to produce a larger proportion of small potatoes, this
results in a larger percent of these potatoes being selected for seed which also
tends to lower the quality of the potatoes produced. Research data available on the
most desirable fertilization and other production,practices are limited. Programs
followed to control plant diseases and insects usually are not adequate. Potatoes
produced often are of low quality with many of the tubers being rough, odd shaped and
affected with second growths. Many of the potatoes harvested have to be culled be-
cause of diseases.
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Table 8.--Average Monthly Price Paid to Farmers for Potatoes in Cartago,
Retail Price in San Jos6 and Index -f Monthly Prices, July, 1957
to June, 1958.
: : Index of prices at:
:Price of potatoes in cnl'nes at: (June, 1957 to July, 1958 = 100)
Month : Retail in :
S Cartage : San Jos : Cartage :Retail in San Jos6
Per Per Per
Carga Pound Pound
July 405 .225 .374 81 85
August 460 .255 .454 92 103
Sept. 343 .190 .346 69 78
Oct. 286 .159 .293 57 66
Nov. 422 .234 .355 84 80
Dec. 452 .251 .384 90 87
Jan. 525 .292 .490 105 111
Feb. 707 .393 .575 141 130
March 609 .338 .455 123 103
April 752 .418 .562 150 127
May 580 .322 .493 116 112
June 649 .360 .513 130 116
Average 500 .27 .441 100 100
IBased on the records of one buyer who bought potatoes in Cartago.
Indice de Precios al por Menor, Ministry of Economics
San Jose, Costa Rica. Monthly Reports.
The marketing system for potatoes is based largely on tradition. The
amount handled by individual buyers is small thus increasing the number of handlers
between the producer and the consumer and also the cost per unit for marketing the
product. Wholesale and retail markets in towns such as San Jose are poorly organized
and very congested which greatly reduces efficiency and adds to the cost of handling
products through them. The difference between prices paid farmers and prices to
consumers for a product like potatoes may appear to be large. However, the size of
the margin seems to be due to high costs and large losses inherent in the present
system of marketing rather than that excessive profits are being made by the people
performing the marketing services.
The efficiency of producing and marketing potatoes in Costa Rica can be
improved. To obtain some of the desired improvements, however, will involve changes
in methods and the marketing system that will be impossible to obtain at the present
time. The first steps in reducing costs in marketing and also increasing returns to
growers is to increase efficiency of production and improve the quality of the pro-
duct being produced. This should make it possible for producers to receive higher
- 22 -
net returns from producing potatoes but at the same time provide the consumer a
better product at a lower price.
In developing a program of wnrk to improve the potato situation, an effort
should be made to:
1. Increase the amount of improved seed available to growers. Many of
the production problems and also poor quality and low yields of potatoes produced at
the present time stem from planting diseased seed. The Agronomy Department of the
Ministry of Agriculture and Industries and the Consejo Nacional de Produccidn have
initiated a cooperative program to obtain and distribute high quality seed. These
organizations are to be complemented on the desirability of their objective. How-
ever, up to the present time the program has failed to provide any quantity of im-
proved seed. In 1955, the Consejo Nacional de Produccion imported 2000 quintals of
No 2 Kennebec seed potatoes from New York and Maine which were sold to farmers in
1956. In 1957, 860 quintals of seed of the Harford and Kennebec varieties were
produced in Costa Rica. Only about two-thirds of this production was sold to farmers
for seed. The rest of the production was sold on the market for table stock.
Farmers report they do not buy improved seed for planting because of the
high cost per manzana. As long as whole seeds are planted, cost will remain high. It
also will be impossible to increase the supply of seed of the varieties desired. When
farmers buy improved seed of the Harford variety, they need to plant four cargas or
7,200 Ibs. of potatoes per manzana because of the large size of the seed. If they
pay 050 per quintal for the seed, this results ih a seed cost of 03,600 per manzana.
When improved seed are grown the amount of potatoes small enough to save for seed is
only 75 to 100 quintals per manzana or one-fourth to one-fifth of the total produc-
tion. The amount saved for seed is not enough to continue the program and plant an
additional manzana. Planting cut seed w-uld reduce the amount and thus the cost of
seed per manzana. It would also make it possible to utilize all of the potatoes
produced for planting and therefore make it easier to increase the amount of improved
seed available for sale.
Since the development of a program to provide increases supplies of im-
proved seed at prices farmers can afford to pay is so basic to increasing the effi-
ciency of both production and marketing of potatoes, the following suggestions ap-
a. Review requirements of present program of seed production to see what
changes or improvements are needed or desirable.
b. Place the responsibility of developing and supervising the improved
seed program in the hands of one individual with this job being his
c. Conduct research on the effects of size and spacing of whole and cut
seed on yields and returns.
2, Intensify program to educate producers to follow recommended produc-
tion practices. Getting producers to change practices often appears to be slow and
discouraging. However, some producers will change practices if they are shown that
by using better practices they can increase their net returns. They can serve as
examples for other farmers in their area. At the present time farmers stop spraying
to control late blight when the potato plants are mature. This practice should be
studied to determine its effects on yield or damage to the tubers from blight infec-
tion both at time of harvest and during the storage and marketing process.
- 23 -
3. Encourage growers to plant seed free of Browq rot (Mava) in areas where
the disease is a problem. Brown'rot is a serious problem in most of the potato areas
below 2,200 meters. To reduce losses in these areas the seed planted should be free
of the disease. Since adequate supplies of improved or certified seed are not avail-
able for purchase, farmers should attempt to obtain their planting seed each year
from areas that are free of disease.
4. Encourage increased use of simple equipment and also more effective
equipment where possible. Potatoes are often grown on land too steep to permit ex-
tensive mechanization. However, most operations are performed by hand even on land
where simple equipment could be used. The classification of the potatoes into size
groups is performed by hand even though this operation is not affected by the topog-
raphy of the land and satisfactory simple equipment is available. To increase ef-
ficiency and reduce cost of production, farmers shoTd be trained and encouraged to
use equipment where conditions lend themselves to such use.
5. Encourage an increase in production of Summer crop potatoes in areas
where possible. Prices of potatoes tend to be lowest in September, October and
November when the Winter crop is being harvested and highest in the first half of
the year when the Summer crop is harvested. If the Summer crop of potatoes could be
increased it would tend to eliminate some of the fluctuation in prices and also in-
crease returns to growers. The data on cost of production indicated a much higher
net return per manzana for the Summer crop of potatoes than for the Winter crop.
6. Experiment with the production of potatoes in new areas. The popula-
tion of Costa Rica is growing very rapidly. This means there will be an increased
demand for foods of all kinds. It will be impossible to expand production of all
products in present production areas enough to supply the amount that will be needed
as the population increases. Experiments should be conducted for potatoes and other
crops in areas where they could likely be grown to determine the best areas in which
to increase production. Also, if potatoes could be grown in areas different from
those now used and harvested at the period they are now in short supply, it would
eliminate some of the fluctuation in prices as indicated above. Reducing some of the
extreme fluctuations would, most likely, result in an increase in consumption per
7. Consider the possibility of establishing definite grade standards for
potatoes. At present there are no definite grade standards for most of the products
grown in Costa Rica. This makes marketing more difficult for neither the buyer nor
seller have a definite standard by which to judge the products being sold. Grade
standards are especially important for products that are exported for often it is not
possible for buyers to see the products in areas where grown. As indicated on pagef-
of this report, Chsta Rica should consider potatoes as a potential export crop. How-
ever, before locally produced potatoes can compete on Central American markets, th~fi
quality must be greatly increased. Establishing definite grade standards would be
one step necessary to develop an export market for potatoes.
Potatoes are grown in Costa Rica mainly on the Southwest slope of the Irazd
mountain at elevations of 1700 to 3000 meters above sea level. A small production
area is in the vicinity of Zarcero. Production of potatoes in 1950 was estimated at
153,520 quintals and 194,089 quintals in 1955. Manzanas harvested were 2,086 and
2,183 in the two years, respectively.