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Jamaica in soil-health crisis – Part 2 Agricultural extension specialist in Jamaica to educate farmers

Published:Thursday | May 21, 2015 | 5:00 AMPaul H. Williams
Sunn hemp seeds. Sunn hemp is regarded as an excellent cover crop.
PHOTOS BY PAUL H. WILLIAMS Dr Danielle D. Treadwell, associate professor, University of Florida.
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IT IS no secret that the world is in a soil-health crisis, and according to recognised soil-health advocate, St Elizabeth vegetable farmer, Mark Brooks, the situation in Jamaica is dire. Low crop yields and poor-quality produce are the result of the ill health of the Jamaican soil.

Many farmers are aware of the problem, but they have absolutely no idea or resources to restore soil health to improve yields and quality. It is perhaps because of this need why Source Farm Eco-village and Foundation at John's Town, St Thomas, invited Dr Danielle Treadwell, state extension specialist and associate professor at the University of Florida, to Jamaica.

Treadwell is here as a volunteer in the Jamaica Sustainable Farm Enterprise Programme, in collaboration with the United States Agency for International Development, Source Farm Foundation, Florida Association for Volunteer Action in the Caribbean and the Americas, and Volunteers For Economic Growth Alliance. And last Monday, Rural Xpress spoke with her about the purpose of her visit.

She is here, she said, for two weeks, "to educate and inspire farmers to adapt practices that will lead to long-term sustainability of their farms ... My area of interest is cover crops." She believes cover crops, which serve many purposes and have many benefits, are undertilised.

And in this the International of Soils, sponsored by many international organisations, there are four main recommendations for soil-health restoration: reduction of tillage, retention of plant residue on the soil, retention of living roots in the soil for as long as possible, and the restoration of biodiversity. "And the cover crops can do all four of those things," Dr Treadwell said.

In discussing the benefits of cover crops, Treadwell said, for example, after a crop of vegetables, cover crops such as pigeon peas, lablab, sesame, pearl millet and sunn hemp may be planted. The living roots of these crops provide the organisms in the soil with important nutrients and energy source.

"Because the soil is alive, it has many organisms in there, performing many functions ... They need energy and the plants provide them with energy through the roots ... . It is important to maintain living roots in the soil all year," Treadwell said.

Since her arrival more than a week ago, Treadwell has been working with farmers at the Plantain Garden River Agro park in St Thomas to demonstrate how to cultivate cover crops to improve soil health and mitigate the impact of climate change. She had also brought along with her seeds for plants which are excellent cover crops.

To sensitise farmers and other agricultural stakeholders, Treadwell has given two lectures on 'International Sustainable Organic Vegetation Production' focusing on cover crop and soil health.

When asked what her most important message to farmers would be, Dr Treadwell replied, "Stop treating their soil like dirt ... . It is a living entity, if they nurture the soil, the soil will nurture them."

rural@gleanerjm.com