Crop Solution needed
While there has been an increasingly negative attitude towards agriculture in Barbados, there have also been promising agricultural opportunities identified in recent years. However, these ventures, which include supplying fresh produce to the cruise ship industry, require a high level of efficiency on the part of all the players if they are to succeed.
Farmers must produce the required quality of produce at competitive prices and supply the required quantities on a regular basis. After harvest, the produce must be handled, stored and transported under the proper conditions so as to maintain the necessary high quality. While farmers must be prepared to diligently carry out all the necessary agronomic operations, they need technical support in a number of areas. There are a plethora of production problems which have persisted in the vegetable and root crop production area over the years, and will no doubt constrain progress if solutions are not forthcoming. While some information may be available via the Internet, local research is also required to solve these problems.
Eggplant is among the crops which have been ordered by the cruise ships. The problem of greening and scarring of fruit has plagued growers for decades, with no recommendations for its control forthcoming. This results in a high rejection rate of fruit and a loss to the farmer.
Okra is another crop for which orders have been received. During the last few years the quality of okras has deteriorated considerably, becoming dark and even black in some instances. Farmers have tried various methods to reduce this, but more attention is needed to determine whether it is production or post-harvest related, or a combination of both.
Almost a decade ago, a problem arose with sweet potato crops, where some plants produced no tubers, and hence yields were reduced. Some research was conducted by the Ministry of Agriculture, which concluded that the problem was caused by a virus complex. This would indicate the need to obtain clean planting material from a reliable source. Although some growers are willing to facilitate the importation of this material, there has been little or no progress on the matter and the problem persists.
The age old “bunchy top” problem continues with paw paws. This has resulted in a severe shortage of the fruit locally. Think tank A few years ago, a think tank was hosted and recommendations made. There was some improvement for a limited period after which the fungal disease phytopththora (NOT PHYTOPHTHORA) surfaced and the combination has been devastating crops ever since. It is understood that some research has been conducted in St Vincent. Fresh herbs are in demand by cruise ships.
Basil is another herb which becomes brown and unmarketable under certain conditions. The University of the West Indies was approached a few years ago in an effort to have the problem investigated, but no research was forthcoming. As I have said many times before, a reliable diagnostic laboratory which can respond expeditiously to farmers’ requests for disease identification is urgently needed if we are to move forward in these new agricultural ventures. A pathologist who is dedicated to this work is essential to the effective running of such a laboratory.
Another problem is that the number of agricultural chemicals available to farmers is becoming increasingly limited, and those that are available are very old and overused. There are many new, safe, environmentally friendly chemicals coming onto the market, and the Pesticide Control Board, the entity which determines the entry of chemicals into the island, is urged to deal with applications for registration in a more expeditious manner so as to help farmers overcome these persistent problems. When growers are offered prices for their crops, they must be able to assess whether they can supply at the given prices at a profit.
In the past, the Ministry of Agriculture has assisted with cost of production calculations, but in more recent times information does not seem complete, and the availability of the service is not well known to farmers. There are a number of organisations which should be involved in the grower support system. These include the University of the West Indies and the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute, which need to have more dialogue with the agricultural sector so as to focus their research to satisfy the needs of the sector. Similarly, the Ministry of Agriculture needs to either have similar dialogue and conduct the relevant research or, alternatively, contract it to the private sector.
• The Agrodoc has 40 years’ experience in agriculture in Barbados, operating at different levels of the sector.