July 1, 2016

by Rosalin Moss

The Mississippi Club


Dr. Bryan A. Bailey

If There Is Something You Really Like To Do, Do It



Dr. Bryan A. Bailey, Research Plant Pathologist, Agricultural Research Service, USDA


I have to admit that I was a bit nervous about interviewing Dr. Bryan A. Bailey, a USDA scientist specializing in the study of pathogens that cause diseases in the cacao tree.  Wow!  Certainly a subject way out of my league!  However, it turned out to be a delightful conversation and very educational!  Dr. Bailey was very patient with me and answered all of my questions in a manner that was easy for me to understand.  It was truly a joy chatting with such an accomplished southern gentleman. 


Dr. Bailey is a native-Mississippian who was born and raised on the Mississippi gulf coast in Escatawpa.  He graduated from Moss Point High School, and then attended Mississippi State University where he received his Master's in Agronomy.  Dr. Bailey went on to earn his Ph.D. at Texas A&M University.  He has worked for the USDA in Maryland since 1989 and continues his work on the study of pathogens that affect cacao trees. 


Cacao [kəˈkou, kəˈkāō] is beanlike seeds from which cocoa, cocoa butter and chocolate are made.  The small tropical evergreen tree that bears these seeds are cultivated mainly in tropical areas around the globe where there is sufficient rainfall.  Dr. Bailey's work focuses on helping farmers who grow these trees to identify and prevent diseases that can destroy entire cacao crops.  Dr. Bailey stated that most cacao growers are small-scale farmers who depend on crops to provide basic staples for their families, such as clothing, shoes, food and shelter.  The good thing is that Dr. Bailey and others who study these plants are providing answers that help these farmers to continue growing healthy cacao crops, which in turn keeps the world provided with the chocolate that we all love so much. 


This interview was an excellent opportunity to get some insight into the claims of health benefits from chocolate.  Dr. Bailey confirmed that dark chocolate,  properly processed and consumed in moderation, can have health benefits on the heart and circulation.  I also asked about the claims that chocolate might be an aphrodisiac,  and Dr. Bailey would only say that the heart and circulation benefits should not hurt.   


Dr. Bailey is the co-author and lead editor of Cacao Diseases, A History of Old Enemies and New Encounters, a book that reviews what is currently known about pathogens that cause disease in cacao trees and how to manage them.  The goal of Dr. Bailey and other scientists is to identify all of the pathogens that cause disease in cacao crops, thereby providing information to assist in prevention.  Dr. Bailey collaborated with scientists around the world to compile this book and has traveled to places like Ghana, Indonesia, Peru, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Brazil, and Ecuador to study and gather information for this important work.  Reade more about Dr.  Bryan Bailey's research at http://www.ars.usda.gov/PandP/docs.htm?docid=7084


As our discussion moved from cacao to Mississippi, I learned that Dr. Bailey frequently returns to Mississippi where his father and brother still reside, along with other relatives living in several Mississippi towns.  And, like many other native-Mississippians, Dr. Bailey plans to return to Mississippi to live once he retires from the USDA.  Dr. Bailey's wife, Susan Everett Bailey, is also a native-Mississippian who grew up in the same neighborhood as her husband and also graduated from Moss Point High School.  They have three daughters --, oldest, Allison is attending University of Minnesota -- middle, Erin is a wildlife biologist -- youngest, Rebecca  is currently attending MSU. 


When I asked Dr. Bailey what piece of advice he would give to the young or people in general, he had this to say, "If there is something you desire to do, do it.  Do not let others misdirect you away from what is in your heart to do.  Find the thing you really like to do and stick to it, and you will be successful."  He went on to say that when he was growing up, his interests were quite different from most of his peers, and that he is glad that he pursued his personal preferences because he is quite happy with the way his life has turned out.  Dr. Bailey strongly advises taking the opportunities given to you and doing the best you can. 


As we wrapped up our conversation, Dr. Bailey recalled when he was a kid sitting on the bank of the Pascagoula River fishing with a cane pole, he had no idea he would do the things he has done, traveling around the world and doing the research he has done.  He is very pleased with the work he and other scientists have done with the cacao tree, and he is looking forward to the work they will do in the future.  The book Cacao Diseases, A History of Old Enemies and New Encounters is the first of its kind with authors from all over the world.  Dr. Bailey, along with the other collaborating scientists, are determined to understand and resolve all of the diseases that attack cacao crops, and they want to make sure that there will always be enough cacao production to keep a good supply of chocolate flowing for us end-users.  And to that, one can only say, "Long live the cacao tree and those who protect it!"




--Rosalin Moss aka Mississippi Traveler

July 1, 2016