Major agri projects on the horizon

Camilo Thame

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

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HIT by a mild drought in the summer and hurricane winds in October, the agriculture sector still fared better in 2012 than the year before.

Wind damage left in the wake of Hurricane Sandy impaired the eastern side of the island, particularly Portland, St Thomas and St Mary, where banana crops were devastated.

And it will likely take some time for recovery in those parishes.

But major farm projects that are on the drawing table could mean a big boost for agriculture this year, while continued expansion in the use of greenhouse technology seen in 2012 may carry through to 2013.

Key among the projects is Red Stripe's plans to establish commercial agreements with farmers to cultivate over 2,000 acres with cassava and sorghum to replace imported barley for input into its beer.

Aiming to replicate parent company Diageo's investments in supply chain rationalisation for its breweries in Africa, the brewer is looking at first replacing 15 to 20 per cent of it raw materials by 2014, which will require 7,000 acres of the crop to be grown, before eventually moving to 70 per cent by 2020.

Red Stripe Head of Corporate Relations Marguerite Cremin told the Jamaica Observer that a full-time project manager was recently appointed and that the business case is now being finalised.

Continued revitalisation of cane by the privatised sugar companies is also expected to continue to boost the sector. Pan Caribbean Sugar Company alone already has over 10,000 hectares of land under cultivation and plans to plant an additional 5,000 to 6,000 hectares over the next three years.

Jamaica Broilers' plan to collaborate with the Government to expand corn production from 100 acres to 300 acres, using land in Amity Hall, St Catherine, and purportedly another unnamed entity in Prospect, Hanover, which was preparing to put in 400 acres, are other agricultural projects expected to come on stream in the near term.

Meanwhile, market data shows that production using greenhouse technology, particularly to grow sweet pepper, has consistently yielded moderate supply in the parishes of St Ann and St Elizabeth, while St Mary appears to now be well established in greenhouse production, although its output mostly falls short of demand.

Use of the technology is also reported in Clarendon, Manchester, Portland, and Trelawny, but output there appears to be intermittent, according to market data acquired from the agriculture ministry.

Overall, decline in output from the agriculture sector during the second half of 2012 was likely not enough to drag down the sector for the entire year.

The sector grew by more than seven per cent during the first half of last year, due to improved weather conditions relative to flood and other unfavourable conditions which prevailed during the corresponding quarter in 2011.

An intensification of government programmes aimed at improving efficiency in the industry also resulted in improved output.

The second half was hit by drought conditions in some of the major agriculture producing parishes, particularly during June and July, and Hurricane Sandy in October, which mostly affected the eastern parishes.

During the three months to September, the agriculture, forestry and fishing industry declined by 0.5 per cent, when compared to the corresponding period in 2011.




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