Thu | Jul 2, 2020

Farming fallout more than small potatoes

Published:Wednesday | April 8, 2020 | 12:20 AMChristopher Serju/Gleaner Writer

After five years in farming, Tyrone Robinson answered the Government’s call to ramp up production of Irish potatoes and really went in big. Having landed deals with a number of hotels, he was on track to deliver 90,000lb of produce. Then COVID-19 struck, grounding global travel and shutting down the hospitality sector.

So when State Minister Floyd Green negotiated contracts with Dencon Farms Jamaica Limited out of Clarendon to purchase the tuber, Robinson was ecstatic. He had been peddling some of it here and there, but on Tuesday delivered 23,000lb, with another 17,000lb to be on-sold.

“It gave us market, gave us a strength back. I wish we had gotten through to each other a lot sooner,” he told a Gleaner news team on hand to witness the delivery. “It is good to know that there was somebody to sell to, because we still have to feed the country.”

HUGE LOSSES

Green, who works out of the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries, said that farmers were facing huge losses of food produce. He remains hopeful that the significant investments in cultivation will cause the market to rebound if the coronavirus crisis breaks in months.

Faced with the fallout, the ministry has gone into overdrive trying to find markets for surplus produce. However, the scale of the displacement, with dozens of hotels and hundreds of schools shuttered, means that Robinson’s potato deal is one small footstep in a long journey.

“Our initial outreach was to engage private-sector partners, with an emphasis on identifying people who had proper and extensive storage facilities and capacity, who would be able to really help by taking off some of the surplus, people who could even use it for agro-processing,” the state minister said.

Green met with the management of Dencon Farms to explain the magnitude of the problem and asked for help. Thereafter, the company worked with the Rural Agricultural Development Authority team out of St Ann, as well as ministry officials, to fine-tune the collaboration.

“It has been reaping some good returns thus far,” Green said, as he watched the Irish potatoes being offloaded into Dencon’s cold-storage facility.

christopher.serju@gleanerjm.com