• Today
    March 31

  • 01:42 PM

FOR WHAT IT'S WORTH: They don’t understand

DR FRANCES CHANDLER,

Added 15 April 2015

forwhatitsworth

FARMERS NEVER CEASE TO AMAZE ME with their persistence in the face of daily challenges, some outside human control, but most man-made.

The man-made challenges, I think, result from a lack of understanding of agriculture. For instance, the continued late release of funds in the sugar industry: don’t they realise that late release in 2013 affects, not only the 2014, but also the 2015 crop? Then the late release in 2014 means that the 2016 crop is already affected.

With this continuing year after year, progress is almost impossible, enthusiasm is dampened and the industry  continues its downward trend. The late start of crop further compounds the problem since cane is over-matured, fields are damaged by harvesting under wet conditions, and cultivation for the next crop is not only delayed, but wet conditions affect the quality of the cultivation. Apart from that, food crop production is affected since fields aren’t available until the sugar cane crop is removed.

Then there are those who complain that Agrofest should be held for a week and shouldn’t only be about exhibiting crops and livestock, but about seminars for farmers. They, too, obviously don’t understand farming or they would know that no real farmer would leave his farm for a week to listen to people talk. Of course we know that new information should be passed on to farmers, but this is better done through short on-farm or on-station visits with practical demonstrations.

Agrofest is an exhibition – the culmination of the efforts of farmers – an opportunity to showcase their achievements in a competitive environment. But the competitive spirit, so obvious in the original agricultural and industrial exhibition, has been lost. Farmers and other industry players of long ago were fiercely competitive with their sugar cane, sugar and molasses, root crops, vegetables and livestock. Today the interest has waned.

As the saying goes, “farming is easy when your plough is a pen and you’re miles from a corn field”. We can talk, we can write, but “the devil is in the doing” and farmers do their best  against the odds – the praedial larceny, the weather, the monkeys, birds, stray animals and ravaging dogs – usually with little support.

But despite the efforts to kill agriculture, it’s heartening to see that some still appreciate the need to produce some of our food. About two years ago a young member of the Coast Guard initiated cultivation of a vegetable garden at the Coast Guard headquarters on Spring Garden. A few weeks ago a similar initiative was launched by members of the Defence Force at St Ann’s Fort. All encouraging signs.

The 2012 annual report for the Dodds Prison farm shows a  commendable revenue of over $300 000 from pork and food crops but one wonders what progress is being made with the proposed expanded farm which was to see the rearing of 18 000 broilers, 1 000 layers, 100 beef and dairy cattle, 500 sheep, 500 pigs and 60 rabbits as well as 30 types of vegetable crops.

Apparently one of the challenges with the farm is finding an adequate number of offenders to work in a timely manner as the selection process has to be carefully administered. Is this really so or is there still this question of whether it’s lawful for prisoners to work? Maybe we’ll soon hear there’ll be a golf course instead of a farm.

In direct contradiction to those who say young people aren’t interested in agriculture, was the report of a 19-year-old St Philip resident following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather by rearing chickens and pigs. Then there was the youngster who is reportedly developing a flock of Black Belly sheep.

Furthermore, while doing a quick survey of interesting things happening in the sector, I discovered a young couple in their 20s doing crayfish farming/aquaponics, and of course there’s the winner of the 2013 Bank On Me competition who runs a tilapia and crayfish farm. Kudos to these young people.

Established farmers are cutting costs by installing photovoltaics, improving crop quality by using hydroponics and greenhouses, and diversifying their operations by processing, for example, the production of sweet potato fries.

Last but not least, I was pleasantly surprised to finally see a local hotel serving Bajan sugar sachets with its coffee. It’s about time!

• Dr Frances Chandler is a former independent senator. Email fchandler@caribsurf.com

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