Wed | Aug 16, 2017

Jamaica Agricultural Society rolling out shops, car park as moneymakers

Published:Friday | July 21, 2017 | 7:00 AMAvia Collinder
Senator Norman Grant, president of the Jamaica Agricultrual Society.

Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS), a lobby for farmers, will break ground by November on a multistorey car park in downtown Kingston. It is also building new shops for rental in Westmoreland and Mandeville.

Norman Grant, president of JAS, told the Financial Gleaner that the society is investing $100 million overall in the ventures, financed from profits generated by the Denbigh Agricultural Show and borrowings from National Commercial Bank and JN Bank.

The society's self-financing activities led to a quadrupling of JAS' surplus for the financial year ended March 2017, Grant announced last week at the group's annual general meeting.

The society distributes farming inputs, markets agricultural produce on behalf of farmers and earns rental from the properties it owns.

Second phase

Grant said the society has invested in the construction of more shops for rental, including eight at Compton House in Manchester. Annual rental from the complex is now $10 million. The JAS is also planning a second phase of development on-site over 24 months, commencing in September.

In the western parish of Westmoreland, the JAS is developing the Arthur Lawson Complex on Great Georges Street in the capital town, Savanna-la-Mar, which Grant described as "one of the largest farm stores in the parish". The JAS intends to add shops upstairs, office space for the JAS, and also construct another building to rent.

Grant said that at Sutton Place, located at Church Street in Montego Bay, the society has acquired additional property for an expanded car park. The park is now generating $1.2 million annually in income. The Kingston car park will be developed on 1.5 acres of land acquired beside the JAS headquarters at 67 Church Street.

For the financial year ended March 2017, the JAS generated revenue of $104.29 million compared with $96.23 million the previous period, an increase of eight per cent.

JAS surplus spiked 454 per cent in the same period from $1.64 million to $9.08 million. Its chief profit centres were rental of properties, the Denbigh Agricultural, Industrial and Food Show, and expanded farm store activities under the JASCEL brand.

The Jamaica Agricultural Society Commercial Enterprises Limited - JASCEL - is a central marketing platform for farmers, Grant said.

"JASCEL now operates a farm store and garden centre which sells input to our customers and offers to paid-up registered members/ farmers a five per cent discount," said the JAS president.

Targeting increase

He said the plan is to establish at least one farm store operation in every parish. The two main stores are at 67 Church Street in Kingston, and in Port Antonio, Portland.

JASCEL purchased 24,500 pounds of pumpkin, 33,300 pounds of sweet potato and 6,500 pounds of pimento from farmers during the year - in total, doubling its purchases of the prior year.

The society is targeting a further 60 per cent increase in purchases from farmers this year.

"We are projecting that for the year ending March 2018, our purchases from farmers will be over 100,000 pounds of produce," Grant said.

Rental income for the society was approximately $6 million, with Compton House in Manchester contributing $3.2 million; the car park at Sutton Street, $1.5 million; and office space at 67 Church Street, $1.2 million.

JAS now controls total assets valued at $520.35 million, while its current and long-term debts amount to $64 million.

Grant boasts that the strength of the society's balance sheet is a far cry from its position when he was first elected president back in 2003.

Then, the society's "liabilities were close to $200 million and the JAS was insolvent," he said. "We have come a long way, but there is still a lot more work to do".

Grant served as president between 2003 and 2009, and was re-elected in 2012. He said that the organisation has strengthened its financial position through reorganisa-tion and restructuring of its debt, including settlement of liabilities in which the 52-acre Denbigh property was used as collateral for a secured loan of $85 million.

The Jamaica Agricultural Society is 122 years old. The next staging of its signature agriculture show at Denbigh is set for August 5-7. This year's event will cost $100 million. Grant said it is expected to generate more than $1 billion of economic activity.

avia.collinder@gleanerjm.com