Tue | Dec 6, 2016

Low banana yields blamed on drought

Published:Tuesday | April 7, 2015 | 12:00 AMChristopher Serju
A worker transporting bananas via a pulley at the St Mary Banana Estate.

The local banana industry is still reeling from the impact of last year's drought, which has resulted in a significant reduction in production levels, according to Grethel Sessing, chairman of the All Island Banana Growers' Association (AIBGA).

"It was very much underestimated, because the impact of the drought, coupled with the bad winter months, retarded the growth of the plants. For example, under normal conditions, the girth of the banana plant (trunk), you would have a growth between seven and 12 centimetres per week. During the drought, we were experiencing between 1.7 to three centimetres per week, and these measurements are taken on plants not yet shooting (bearing)," she told The Gleaner.

Resulting from this, the plants would take longer to shoot (bear) and when they did, the fruits would be noticeably smaller.

"For example, where you might be getting a bunch that would normally get you, say, 20 kilogrammes, what was happening is you would have been getting Ö [a bunch weghing] between 15 and at best 15.5 kilogrammes. In most cases, we were looking at 25 per cent less weight per bunch as a result of the fruits that have come back after drought, coupled with the colder season," Sessing disclosed.

COOLER WINTER

Even though Jamaica does not experience winter in the true sense, the period between December and February when the weather is cooler, this time around, it was abnormally cooler, according to Sessing. In light of this, the AIBGA has stepped up the level of technical assistance to its members.

"You have to apply a lot more urea to the plant to speed up growth, and like everything else, it takes some response time. We started from late December going into January, so you're not going to see much improvement until the end of April," the AIBGA head divulged.

"When you get those extreme in conditions, whether drought or whatever, you have to look closely at the nutrition level of your plants, your fertiliser, your disease control - all of those things we have to be focusing on to get back on track. So we are in it for the long haul and we are being greatly supported by the Ministry of Agriculture and we continue to use the European Union-granted funds as wisely as possible Ö . It's a long-term plan," Sessing told The Gleaner.

However, while acknowledging the debilitating impact of the adverse weather conditions, one veteran banana farmer is blaming the shortfall in production on the apathy and short-sightedness of the AIBGA members.

He explained: "At the end of a drought, the protocol is that as soon as there is rain, you put on your fertiliser as well as leaf-spot control because both of them go hand in hand. Most of the farmers didn't [do it] because they claimed that they did not have working capital and are now saying they are being affected by drought. At this time, you cannot be impacted by drought. You are being impacted by the fact that you did not apply what you were supposed to apply at the end of the drought. So they are still seeing the effects of low production," charged the farmer, who did not want his name used in this article.

"Normally, during the period of winter, we do see a lower production, even if you are at the peak of performance. So I do expect to see a reduction, but the reduction varies from farm to farm and the overall climatic and weather conditions are further exacerbated by your poor agronomic practices, and so that is one aspect of it."

The farmer pointed out that since Jamaica stopped exporting banana to the United Kingdom, many farmers had discontinued the proper agronomic practices as dictated by the international market.

"The fact of the matter is that when we were exporting, whether we were going through winter, going through rain, we exported nonetheless, and for export, you must operate at an international standard. We need to get back to that level of operations in our everyday activities."

christopher.serju@gleanerjm.com