Richard Armstrong, of Armag Farms, in a field at Hampton, St Philip, with the “king grass”, a hybrid of elephant grass and pearl millet. (Picture by Lennox Devonish.)
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One of Barbados’ leading sugar cane farmers is shifting to what he calls “king grass”.
Richard Armstrong, of Armag Farms Ltd, has been working in collaboration with Barbados Light & Power (BL&P) for the past eight years on a pilot project aimed at developing the biomass industry. The grass, a hybrid of elephant grass and pearl millet, will be used as organic fuel to boost the energy sector.
Armstrong, who cultivates close to 900 acres of land, now has only 32 acres under sugar production and that amount is declining every year. So far, he has 300 acres of the king grass variety and is working assiduously to increase that acreage to 600.
Other sugar cane farmers are also making the switch to the “king grass”.
Armstrong is confident that this grass will replace sugar production in the near future.
“The sugar industry has been propped up by the taxpayer for far too long and is too dependent on it and the price of producing sugar is way more than you get for it,” said Armstrong, who has over 30 years’ experience in the sugar cane industry.
“It became obvious that a market for agricultural produce in Barbados is our local energy market. It is something that we control, and business people, engineers and Barbados Sugar Industry Limited are also getting involved and we all are trying to develop this project.”
He said the Biomass To Power project should officially come on stream by 2020, adding that there will be several convergence stations to process and convert the grass into energy.
“Each farming area or group of farmers can get together and have their own plant and that allows BL&P to have megawatt plants in 20 different areas, so that if one goes offline they wouldn’t have to worry about backing up the system – as they would have to if it was just one plant; so it’s a case of distributed power they are looking at.”
Armstrong explained that king grass was almost identical to sugar cane, so people who may argue that cane helped to beautify the island did not have to worry about the country losing its physical attributes.
He said it was taller, required less maintenance and was better for the soil.
“The beauty of this is that it helps control weed growth, like cow itch, and maintains the structure of the soil. It is harvested twice a year and if someone had to ask me for a solution to the abandoned CLICO lands [former CLICO estates in St John now owned by Government], I would tell them put all the acres in king grass,” the businessman said. (SB)