GROWING up with an awareness of the correlation between health and the food we eat, Lansford Dyer developed an interest in farming and the environment.
However, it wasn’t until returning to Jamaica, after years studying business at Columbia University in New York, USA, hoping to see the island paradise he left as a teenager but instead seeing degradation of the environment that his interest grew into a passion project.
Fast-forward to today, Dyer is making his mark in environmental restoration and preservation through agriculture in Clarkes Town district, Bog Walk, St Catherine.
“I wanted to make an impact, and so that’s how the name DyerMark was born. When we die we have to leave a mark not to just walk through and make money; I wanted to leave a legacy, some sort of heritage,” he told a gathering in a virtual meeting with Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters Association representatives last month.
His virtual presentation from his home in New York would be the precursor to a tour of St Catherine-based Dyermark Preservation Farms, an “off-road, multi-crop farm” that he purchased property in 2019.
“When the opportunity came up to buy some farmlands in Jamaica, I grabbed this opportunity because it allowed me to merge my passions for environmental restoration and sustainable intensification. So not fully organic agriculture, but agriculture wherein we try to get the most out of the land without harming the environment and actually restoring it in some instances,” Dyer stated.
“We want to stay in the region of permaculture, regenerative agriculture, hydroponics, aquaponics and on the energy side we want to embrace solar and wind,” he added.
According to Dyer, the principles a sustainable intensification focus on getting the best possible yield from the land with the least environmental harm
So far, the farm has acquired a solar photovoltaic system that generates electricity with a diesel generator serving as backup.
But since acquiring the property, Dyer has had quite the journey dealing with the novel coronavirus pandemic and extreme weather conditions. Additionally, since the property was inactive for 15 years, he had to get hired labour to clear most of the 20-acre parcel before beginning to plant peppers, yams, bananas, plantains, and ginger.
Based on the topography of the land and the level of rainfall, Dyer envisions creating a forest farm with high-valued crops.
“But we don’t just want to be primary producers; we want to extend vertically and horizontally,” he shared, adding: “So, in terms of what we’re looking to do, we want to start off with primary production. We have peppers on the ground, which is our core spice.”
As part of the sustainable agriculture ethos, he also uses the saw dust in his small-scale poultry farm on the property.
Over the next two to five years, however, he plans to transition into producing value-added items such as sauces, rubs, teas and nutraceuticals.
“We want to work with the universities, Bureau of Standards [Jamaica] and SRC (Scientific Research Council) to build out some of these nutraceuticals,” Dyer outlined.
For now, though, the businessman noted his familiarity with the J curve in private equity investing, which requires heavy capital expenditure before seeing any viable returns.
“…So I have no kind of false belief that we’ll be making money right off the top and we’d be winning. We know that any private investment takes a few years to kind of rehabilitate an entity that has been dormant to profits,” Dyer stated.
“We knew that the first two years would be spent on infrastructure upgrading, testing crops and propogation and I think we have a good team managing,” he added.
Finding a proper managing team, especially having to live in the USA for most of the year, was quite a challenge for Dyer. But having completed the International Labor Organization and Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries programme for operators in farming and fisheries sector, he believes the farming operation with his team is ready for growth.
“Right now we’re positioned for growth and we’re just looking for the right alliances and partnerships to help us on that trajectory,” he explained.
One of the areas in which Dyer is eager to enter partnerships is with universities and non-governmental organisations looking to run pilot projects in nutraceuticals.
Another challenge he faces is financing. Having faced the difficulties of accessing grants and loans through some of Jamaica’s financial institutions and government agencies, the businessman has resorted to investing his own funds while looking for financial partners.
Dyer’s financial limitation doesn’t, however, hinder him from sharing some of his short-term goals.
“In terms of financing, there are some dilapidated buildings we want to restore. We want to complete our packing house because come the next pepper crop, we would like to have our export licence in hand so that we can start exporting directly overseas,” he disclosed, adding that he expects to receive the export licence from Jamaica Promotions Corporation before the year end.
“We want to rehabilitate our living quarters because we find it difficult sometimes to attract quality workers because a lot of the farm workers want to live on the farm,” he continued.
Dyermark currently supplies to local higglers, agro-processors and exporters.