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Red Stripe goes hi-tech with cassava

Published:Tuesday | November 4, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Dr Peter Phillips (left), minister of finance, in discussion with Richard Byles (right), chairman of Red Stripe. Looking on (from left) are Derrick Kellier, minister of agriculture, and Cedric Blair, managing director, Red Stripe, during a tour of the cassava farm run by Red Stripe, in Bernard Lodge, St Catherine, last week Tuesday. Ian Allen/Photographer

By investing in good agricultural practices and improved infrastructure such as drip irrigation, with an emphasis on enhancing productivity through the timely use of appropriate technology, Red Stripe is taking cassava cultivation to new heights.

This was apparent throughout last week Tuesday's tour of the 40-acre plot in Bernard Lodge, St Catherine, which the company has leased from Government to provide feed stock for its processing plant to be constructed at Spanish Town Road, St Andrew, where it will process the tuber to provide the starch to replace the imported high-maltose corn syrup, which accounts for as much as 40 per cent of the recipes for some of its drink formulations.

When fully operational, the plant will have at least a 20-tonne capacity for processing the root crop, supplies and prices of which have been inconsistent over the years, leading to major disappointments, and, in some cases, disruptions of business operations that had gambled on the reliance of local farmers.

Now, the Diageo Group, through Red Stripe, is laying the groundwork to ensure ongoing supplies of the crop, which it is projected, could lead to significant savings in import substitution, as well as supply security.

Red Stripe has contracted the local Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI) office to plant, care, and monitor its cassava production with a process that starts with selection of the most appropriate varieties in the first place. The choice of CARDI, which has done extensive research on cassava cultivation, is already beginning to bear fruit, with the value-added potential from every part of the plant still largely untapped.

With 20 acres under cultivation, another 10-acre plot is to be planted out soon, with yields expected to be much higher based on the main indicators from the fledgling operation to date.

Finance Minister Dr Peter Phillips, who, along with Agriculture Minister Derrick Kellier, were members of the touring party, was hard-pressed to contain his excitement afterwards.

Agricultural revolution

"What we have seen is a very impressive display of not only the progress that is being made by Red Stripe, but of the possibilities that exist for Red Stripe and for Jamaica because quite frankly, what we saw in Project Grow Jamaica with the cassava is evidence of an agricultural revolution that is taking place in Jamaica. We are seeing first-rate agricultural science and agronomic science being brought to bear on the production of a crop that has traditionally been ignored by our local agronomists," said Phillips.

"What we are seeing is evidence of yields that are three, four times greater than the average national yield for cassava at present. What we are seeing is the possibility of incorporating cassava into the production process here - your Red Stripe and other products, which will not only put a great number of Jamaicans to work, but also fuel growth in so many other areas - animal feed, other products that will combine to add a greater level of growth to Jamaican agriculture."

With national yields at between 14 and 18 tonnes per hectare, Red Stripe is seeing between 40 and 60 tonnes and sometimes up to 70 tonnes per hectare already. This is at a time when production levels in other crops have declined vastly, due in large measure to the impact of an extensive islandwide drought, which is yet to end. The Bernard Lodge area gets an average of about 900 millilitres of rainfall per year, well below the 1,400 millilitres cassava needs for optimal growth.