Young, fresh and green

A&H Intercrop ventures into modern greenhouse agriculture


Sunday, February 04, 2018

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Among all the businesses that the Branson Entrepreneurial Centre interacts with, farming is rarely encountered. However, when you blend greenhouse technology, agricultural consultancy and ecotourism, it sounds more like a Branson type of business. And so Alvin Murray, third-generation farmer, is seeking to build a new awareness about modern farming that provides exotic produce not normally found in Jamaica, while educating and entertaining visitors.

He provides some details below.

Dennise Williams (DW): Geothermal cooling. Sterilising soil by steaming before you plant in it. These are foreign concepts to many of us in the urban setting. Yet this is how your family business thrives. Tell us about your family business. How long have you been in operation and what is your main product?

Alvin Murray (AM): A&H Intercrop was incorporated in 1992 and produced coffee and bananas for export. After those industries pretty much died, the company sprang back to life in 2015 with the supply and construction of greenhouses as well as management and workforce training in agriculture. While most may say our main product is greenhouses, I'd say it is education.

DW: What is driving the demand for produce such as mushrooms and strawberries? Is it supermarkets or hotels? And how can farmers use greenhouse technology to meet the demand?

AM: The demand is driven mainly by hotels and restaurants. Greenhouse technology can help meet this demand by providing the ideal growth environment, providing better yields.

DW: You are a graphic artist by training. Your family's background is agriculture. Yet you are using the Branson Centre to help build your family's business. How does that work?

AM: We are a family of farmers and educators, offering products and services that smaller Caribbean islands and local farmers need. What we lacked was the entrepreneurial prowess to take what we have to the next level. We lacked expertise in the agro-tourism project we are focusing on at the moment, and through the Branson Centre we'll be able to access a wealth of knowledge via their coaches and advisors.

DW: Tell us about the greenhouse consulting that your family does.

AM: We're not limited to greenhouse consulting; we do agricultural consulting as well. If you don't know what can be grown on your land or what is best for your particular microclimate, that's where we can help. What particular challenges are you facing? We can provide experts in many areas with vast amounts of experience to train your workforce.

DW: Now let us focus on ecotourism. What are your plans to get into this space?

AM: We are currently developing 15.7 acres in Hanover for agro/ecotourism, just 30 minutes from Montego Bay. The property is partially surrounded by the Great River, and we offer a relaxing getaway where visitors will be able to enjoy the enhanced environment to include campsite, small limestone cave, boating, fishing, and educational tours depicting the production and profitability of Jamaican crops (cassava, sugarcane, coffee, bananas, cocoa, ginger, dasheen, yams, sweet potatoes etc.) since the age of the Tainos.

DW: In Jamaica, agriculture is characterised by a 60-year-old man doing back-breaking work in the hot sun. What should young people understand about agriculture and the technology that is changing the industry?

AM: So much has changed. People want clean, healthy food more than ever nowadays, and you can make this happen with technology and some knowledge. There are farmers in cities like New York growing produce on rooftops or inside climate-controlled containers. No matter where you are, you can grow good food with the correct knowledge.

DW: If I have a little garden space in Kingston or Portmore and I want to grow what I eat, how can greenhouse technology work for me?

AM: Well, that depends on what you want to grow. If it's a herb garden or vegetables, the solution may be hydroponics, aeroponics or even a small mushroom house. It's easy with the know-how.

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