LOCAL farmers are eyeing potential threats this Atlantic hurricane season, which begins officially on June 1 and ends on November 30.
As such, they are highlighting several practices that can be employed to safeguard their crops and livestock.
The 2022 hurricane season produced 14 named storms, eight of which became hurricanes with winds of 119 km/h (74 mp/h) or greater, while two — Fiona and Ian — intensified to major hurricanes.
Wayne Thomas, a St Catherine-based livestock farmer, pointed to a need to put safety measures in place, despite an unproblematic 2022 season.
"I wasn't really affected last year because we didn't really get any severe rain, but we always have to prepare for hurricane. If you don't prepare as a farmer, you will get flood out. Water can also blow through the mesh inside the coup so you have to put plastic bag or tarpaulin around it so the rain doesn't blow in," Thomas told the Jamaica Observer.
"You have to clear the area so that water doesn't settle around the fowl house to seep in underneath it, so you set up a proper drainage system. You have to cut away trees that are close to the fowl house so they don't drop on it. You don't know when it [hurricane] is going to come so you have to do your necessary preparations just in case of that."
Any big weather system this year, Thomas added, would have a terrible impact.
"It would be very bad. You have to ensure that you have adequate amount of water. Your tank has to be filled with water because you can't depend on the water from the pipe coming in. And if you have generator it has to be properly serviced because if light goes, the generator has to be up. It is mandatory. I am a contract farmer with Best Dressed and I also do eggs. I operate a farm store as well. It [large weather system] would set me back millions of dollars. I would lose bird — and birds are expensive," he told the Sunday Observer.
A massive $250 million in relief support was issued by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries to farmers who were affected by tropical storms Grace and Ida in October 2021.
The ministry said the heaviest losses were experienced in the poultry sector, at an estimated value of $12 million.
It added that $100 million was in support for crop and livestock farmers, $28 million was made available through Members of Parliament, and the remaining $71 million would be disbursed under the recovery programmes being executed by the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA).
Wordsworth Gordon, chairman of the St Mary-based Jeffrey Town Farmers' Association, told the Sunday Observer that he advises his farmers as best as he can to employ tactical measures to safeguard their crops.
"I have been advising farmers to mulch as much as they can. In St Mary it's difficult because if you cut the grass and put it down green, the precipitation at nights will cause them to rot quickly. They just break down quickly," he said.
Gordon said some farmers do not have the expenses to go very far with some preparation methods.
"Like in this moment that we are in a drought with not enough moisture in the ground, the dryness for farmers is our main problem right now. Dryness with breeze or heavy wind causes you to lose topsoil and you lose nutrients and all sorts of things. With tropical storms' impact we've had damage periodically," he said.
In October 2020, then Agriculture Minister Floyd Green, who last week was reassigned to the ministry, said that based on estimates from RADA there was an excess of a $1.5-billion economic loss across the agricultural sector, impacting over 11,000 farmers as a result of Tropical Storm Zeta.
Green noted that the entire southern belt had taken the brunt of the damage, including St Elizabeth, Manchester, Clarendon, parts of St Catherine, St Thomas, and Westmoreland.
Jamaica Broilers-contracted poultry farmer Valdez Bullock said large-scale farmers are less likely to be affected a great deal by weather systems.
"Chickens have a six-week turnaround; I rear 300,000 chickens every six weeks. The houses we operate in can withstand wind speed some 200 miles per hour. The major thing would be loss of electricity, which would cost us a lot — and it depends on the age of the birds. It might cost us a lot to power the farm by fuel or by generator," he told the Sunday Observer.
"We do chicken on a large scale and we operate in metal frame houses that can withstand the hurricanes. The only preparation that we really need to do is just ensure that overhanging trees and drains are being prepared. So, if you have trees over your chicken house you try and cut it down, and if you have drains to be cleaned you try and clean them in order to get the water moving as fast as possible," Bullock said, noting that there is also a need to stock up on enough feed and diesel fuel that is available.
Most farms, he added, are insured and noted that there should be no problem in terms of recovery in the event of major loss.
"… But maybe it would put a dent in the market in terms of the availability of chicken meat. In terms of recovery, we should be able to get some money from insurance," Bullock said.
Ainsworth Riley, the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) agribusiness specialist in Jamaica, said farmers should take as many precautions as possible.
"Properly store away farm records such as herd records, receipts, land titles, sales agreement, et cetera. The process for replacing land titles can be costly and lengthy, especially if you are in custody of a title that does not have your name on it. I have personal experience with going through the land administrative process. It can be expensive because you require the services of a lawyer to facilitate the process."
Riley further cautioned farmers and fisherfolk to act on other "hurricane tips" and not wait until situations escalate.
"Remove cladding from greenhouses and use to cover crops after laterally placing them on the ground. If possible, stock on seeds, seedlings, and other inputs for quick recovery. Fisherfolk should remove their fish pots and take to shore. Fishing boats should be taken further from shore and properly secured. All farmers and fisherfolk should listen to the bulletins from the met office. Ensure that there is access to battery-operated radio and secure life and property as best as possible," he advised.