DOWN TO EARTH: Showing appreciation for farming
In two recent columns, I highlighted some of the positive things happening in agriculture as a result of the work of young, innovative entrepreneurs.
This week I am highlighting someone of the older generation who has persisted in his efforts in agriculture since he left school at age 15 in the 1950s and has made, and is still making, a considerable contribution to the industry.
Anthony Nicholls was interested in agriculture from a child, and started farming as a teenager on his mother’s acre of land at the Spa in St Joseph. The land was in sugar cane and he was able to increase the yield from 14.5 tons/acre to 21.5 tons during his first year.
He later went on to train as a welder, but as he says “agriculture is in my blood”, so he bought two acres of land at Sturges Plantation, St Thomas, in 1973, and later sold it in 1976, hoping to buy land in St Philip, but the deal fell through, so he rented some land in St Thomas and continued his farming.
In 1987, he purchased his present farm of 58 acres (part of Mount Wilton Plantation) in the very fertile, elevated, high rainfall area of St Thomas.
The land was in sugar cane when he bought it, and the crop yielded 28 tons/acre in the first year.
He was able to increase this to 33 tons/acre in the next year, but found that the availability of labour for the sugar cane operations was a problem, so he gradually reduced the sugar cane acreage and diversified into plantains, bananas and other food crops.
Over the years Mr Nicholls has planted hot peppers on a large scale, carrots, cucumbers, beets, yams and sweet potatoes. In addition, he has maintained about 3.5 acres of sugar cane, not for sugar production, as is the norm, but for the production of fresh cane juice, which he sells to restaurants, supermarkets and bakeries islandwide.
He had started the cane juice operation in the 1960s, but sold the equipment in 1976. He decided to restart the business about three years ago, and it has been developing well since then.
Mr Nicholls realised that farming without your own equipment was risky, so he purchased his own tractor, cultivation and planting equipment as well as freezing and chilling facilities for his cane juice and vegetables.
More recently, he has become involved in the Super Centre Import Substitution programme, which aims to substitute as much of the fresh produce currently being imported from international sources with local or regional produce.
Taking advantage of the slightly higher elevation and consequently lower temperature of his farm, he opted to grow broccoli and cabbage for the programme.
He supplied his first crop of broccoli early this year, followed by a crop of cabbage, and has just completed his second crop of cabbage for the programme. His second crop of broccoli was badly affected by the wet weather, but Mr Nicholls is not giving up; he plans to try broccoli again during the cooler November and December season and to continue the cabbage programme. The fact that he plants for a definite market takes some of the risk out of his farming and assists him with his planning.
The local agricultural industry needs farmers like Mr Nicholls who are willing to try something new and to persist in the face of challenges in order to achieve a goal. It is heartening to see this 58 acres of prime agricultural land producing food crops and saving the country foreign exchange, in sharp contrast to the remainder of Mount Wilton plantation – just across the road which has gone into housing development.
While the negatives of the agricultural industry continue to be highlighted, there are many positive initiatives being taken and we must congratulate and support those who are willing to step up to the plate and fly the flag for agriculture.
* Agro-doc has 40 yars’ experience in agriculture in Barbados, operating at different levels of the sector. Send any questions or comments to : The Agro-doc, C/o Nation Publishing Co. Ltd., Fontabelle, St Michael.