CARIBBEAN Broilers (CB) Group of companies will know if plans to grow sorghum as a corn substitute are financially viable within the coming weeks.
The company is hopeful that its initial 300-acre investment will prove profitable enough to justify planting the grain on a larger scale, it said in a media release.
"Nutramix alone uses 135,000 tonnes of corn annually," divisional manager of feeds, Hans Muller said, explaining that the project is geared at assessing the amount of sorghum needed to provide a viable alternative.
He reckons that "any grain that comes off this field is a grain less imported," putting the country steps closer to independence and sovereignty in local food production.
Though the company concedes that the prevailing market prices per tonne of sorghum and corn are not significantly different, corporate affairs manager of the group, Dr Keith Amiel, cited the potential for job creation and reduced feed costs as the key advantages of the project.
Amiel estimates that sorghum could be reaped at least one-and-a-half times per year with a crop yield of 145 (3.7 tonnes) to 150 bushels of sorghum per acre cultivated.
He estimates as well that the island's tropical climate would make it possible for cultivation to be a year round venture, an advantage he says the island has over other major sorghum growers such as the United States (US), which produces the plant seven months of the year.
"It takes a hundred and ten days from germination to reaping for a crop of sorghum," he said adding that intercropping the plots with red peas would add another revenue stream to the venture as well as provide nourishment to foster optimal soil conditions.
"What we have noticed from the smaller 30-acre field is that the plant grows best with overhead irrigation, unlike the flood irrigations system used with sugar cane," Amiel adds.
The irrigation method requires 60 per cent less water than that used for corn cultivation, he said, in explaining the strategic value of the results obtained to date.
Like the reaping method of sugar cane, the staff of the grown sorghum plants will be reinserted into the soil, which Amiel estimates will provide at least two to three crops before replanting is necessary.
"Jamaica uses roughly 200,000 tonnes of corn annually," he said adding that the project aims to replace 10 to 20 per cent of this amount.
Business Observer calculations show that the company would need to cultivate closer to 6,000 acres to reach the minimum target, should estimated yields be attained.
CB is banking on the commitment given by the Ministry of Agriculture to supply lands upon the successful completion and evaluation of the project as it looks to continue what it describes as a project with "great potential for the industry and the country".
"There is more than 400,000 acres of agricultural land with 75,000 acres irrigable, he said, adding that of that amount, "more than half is not being put to use".
Director general of the Ministry of Agriculture, Don McGlashan, urged a "value-chain approach" to the cultivation of sorghum, which he says "has the potential to save foreign exchange, and improve the livelihood of farmers".
The sorghum crop lends itself to little or no praedial larceny, while ensuring some degree of self-sufficiency for the island, the release outlines.