Vegetable farmers begin post-hurricane recovery, expect shortages

The content originally appeared on: Jamaica News Loop News

Vegetable farmers impacted by Hurricane Beryl have commenced efforts to recover from losses sustained.

The powerful hurricane, which passed just south of Jamaica as a category-four system on July 3, dealt a devastating blow to the agriculture sector, which racked up damages and losses totalling more than $1billion, based on preliminary estimates.

Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS ) President, Lenworth Fulton, says cabbage, lettuce, pak choi, callaloo and cauliflower are the main vegetables that were seriously hit.

He indicated that the blow to the sector will result in food shortages and reduce Jamaica’s agro-processing and value-added capacity.

Noting that there will be shortages of melon, cantaloupe and cucumber over the short-term, the JAS president said within the next 12 weeks, these food items will become readily available again.

He advised that some vegetable farmers have seeds and planting material, and “have already returned to the fields”.

 “What they will have to control now is the weeds. So, the government could assist them in getting some weedicides in their hands to ensure that they keep these weeds from growing rapidly. Farmers also need to get some insecticide and fungicide to keep down the pathogen of what exists and what will come,” Fulton said.

Fulton noted that while the sector’s damage was concentrated in southern parishes, “it was a very devastating blow to agriculture in all our parishes”.

He said farmers lost roughly 3,500 acres of plantain and bananas, pointing out that most of the bananas would usually go into the Jamaica Producers’ ripening trade.

“We are going to have a serious shortage of ripe bananas now. Some of the bananas that go into the cooking business, the green bananas, they are from farmers that would have probably about 500 acres of banana in their backyard, in their various fields, and those would reach our markets… and those are gone too,” Mr. Fulton said.

He reasoned that produce like sweet potato and cassava cannot be reaped now, as they are waterlogged and will spoil quickly.

He further indicated that orchard crops for export and those used for agro-processing have also been impacted.

“Our mangoes are gone. In St Thomas, most of the ackees have been blown off the trees. But those mature ackees that have been blown off can be collected from the ground and placed on something clean like some mesh wire and they will open naturally, and those ackees are good as ever,” he advised.

Fulton said hot pepper farms were also hit by Hurricane Beryl and that will impact production, as the main market for this crop is agro-processing.

He further indicated that the GraceKennedy processing facility in St Elizabeth has sustained significant damage, citing the urgent need for repairs, while adding that the “government will have to get in there immediately to assist the farmers”.