Sea-island cotton to replace corn on JB land

BY KARENA BENNETT Business reporter bennettk@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, January 23, 2015

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THE Jamaica Broilers Group (JBG) is looking to lease 150 acres of its SG Developments land for the cultivation of sea-island cotton.


The company, which has recently built out three of six 6,000 metric tonnes of grains silo at its Old Harbour-based mill, said it is now at a very sensitive stage in the negotiation process with the potential lessee.


Previously, JBG planned on cultivating an additional 100 acres of local corn on its land by May for the production of animal feeds. The company reckoned that the increase in corn production would complement its current $830-million expansion to treble its grains storage capacity. But that plan has changed.


"We've really looked at the pilot project for corn and we realise that it is a very difficult economic model," president and CEO of Jamaica Broilers, Christopher Levy, told the Jamaica Observer. "What we have done is start discussions with folks for sea-island cotton and stuff that is of much higher value than corn as a raw material, because you want to be able to get the most value out of an acre of land."


"When we looked at corn, the capacities and the investment that we would need to be competitive was not going to be feasible," he told the Caribbean Business Report. Levy stated that the company is currently going through the numbers and will be drafting the contracts as the new initiative looks promising.


The West Indian sea-island cotton is a strain of cotton particularly found in Antigua, Barbados, Nevis and Jamaica. The cotton boasts extra-long fibres that are of high quality used to make quality clothing, along with body products and fragrances. Currently, Jamaica is the only island capable of large-scale production.


Last February, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries signed an agreement between the Jamaica Agricultural Development Foundation (JADF) and the Japanese Government for the revitalisation of the West Indian Sea Island Cotton (WISIC) industry in Jamaica.


The Government planned to cultivate 500 acres of the crop through an $11-million grant assistance from the Japanese Government. The production has the potential to earn US$800 million ($91.2 billion) annually, according to Vitus Evans, CEO of JADF.


Jamaica produces sea- island cotton with a quality and texture that garners a comparatively higher price than in most parts of the world. The JADF stated that cotton is a niche product with annual global demand at six million lbs of lint. One third of the demand comes from Japan, while Switzerland, USA, Italy and the United Kingdom have also expressed an interest in the product.


If the industry were to attain its putative potential it would rival the foreign exchange earnings of the third-largest industry in Jamaica that of the bauxite/alumina sector.


"It's high-quality cotton and a lot of the farming equipment is already vested," Levy said. "I think it could be something that the folks have good legs on."


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