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MONDAY MAN: 25 years on the cutting edge

Lisa King

MONDAY MAN: 25 years on the cutting edge

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For Anderson Wharton, operating the sugar cane harvester is one of the sweetest jobs around.
No wonder he has been working in the sugar cane industry for 25 years.  
Last week, the Barbados Agricultural Management Company (BAMC) worker was at Constant Plantation, St George, busy at the controls of the mechanical cane harvesting machine he affectionately calls Mavis.
The 52-year-old, who resides in Brereton Village, St Philip, said he knew how to fully maintain and operate the machines since he had been working with them for 17 years.
He first worked at Edgecumbe Plantation before it was turned over to the BAMC. There he started working as a “bin boy” where he would collect the mud from the cane bins and dispose of it so the extraneous matter didn’t go to the factory.
He then moved on to fixing the machinery in the yard each morning to make sure it was ready to go out into the field. His boss, seeing his initiative, then made him tractor driver. When they purchased a new harvester seven years ago, Wharton was given the opportunity to become the operator.  
He said through the years he has learnt on the job and it was not an easy one.
“If the field is not prepared properly, your life is at danger because if you are not balancing the harvester with the elevator when you are cutting the field, in certain terrain you can turn it over very easily,” he explained. “So if you are not a careful operator you will find that you can create a problem for yourself or one of the guys working in the field with you.
“There are lots of gadgets and buttons inside so you have to be constantly vigilant to make sure the readings are right.”
Wharton added that sometimes there were some rocks embedded in the field and which could not be removed, forcing the operator to shift the elevator to get over the rock while at the same time making sure the machinery was balanced.
Though he has never had any accidents, he has had some near misses where the machine came to a pivoting point, almost turning over.
“But because of being vigilant, I used the elevator to control that,” Wharton said.
He has worked at a variety of plantations, including Three Houses, Constant and Searle’s.
One of the inconveniences of doing the job is dealing with cow itch which is common in certain parts of St John. He said the vine, which can cause burning, itching and pain, has forced operators to wear protective jumpsuits over their clothes in case they have to get out of the machines in the field.
“When you have to get out and fix the machine if there is a burst hose, if the base cutter trips because of hitting a rock in the field, then you would have to deal with the cow itch and it really bites,”?he said.
He added he used Calamine lotion mixed with baby oil and that helped a lot. Wharton said he also needed to have the air-conditioning in the cabin because being in the sun could lead to severe dehydration, a problem for which he had to seek medical attention on one occasion.
Nonetheless, he praises the use of the mechanical harvesters even though they reduce the need for manual labour.  
However, he said that if the field was not well prepared, the base of the harvesters could jam and lead to some canes being left in the field. Some days he cuts at least ten acres and depending on how much cane there is, can process 300 or 400 tonnes of cane in one day.
However, he said the quality of the cane could affect the amount of cane harvested. Years before they would get a lovely field of cane, he added, but not these days.
“The canes are not as fat as before. I am not sure if it is an issue at the cane breeding station or if it is the water, if they are not getting as much as before. I cannot give you a cane analysis because I only cut them. An expert would have to say, but I see a difference.”
Even with less cane being planted and harvested on a yearly basis, Wharton is intent on staying in his job.
He works year round with the BAMC, so outside of the sugar season, he does handy work and sometimes furrows the fields.