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Onion row! - Ministry offers $50 per pound but farmers say no less than $60

Published:Sunday | July 10, 2016 | 7:00 AMChristopher Serju
Farmer Beverly Allen easily swings a bag of onions to add to the thousands of pounds of the bulb harvested by farmers in Colbeck Castle, Clarendon, under the Onion Development Programme.

Efforts to build on the successful pilot phase of the Government's onion development project have hit a major snag.

Farmers from Clarendon and St Catherine have refused to accept the recommended price of $50 per pound for the onions and are demanding at least $60 as a starting price for the fall crop to be planted from September to November.

The farmers, who were participating in the crop review and planning workshop at the Caymanas Golf and Country Club, St Catherine, expressed satisfaction with revenue from the last crop, for which they were paid at least $60 a pound.

Most had already signed a commitment form, agreeing to be active participants in expansion of the project, which is seeking to reduce the importation of onions to meet the estimated 10 million kilograms consumed locally each year, when the stalemate occurred.

This was even after Sandor Pike, director of marketing in the agriculture ministry, explained that agreeing to this minimum price did not mean the farmers would not be paid more.

 

IMPORT SUBSTITUTION

 

Pike explained the importance of the programme to the national agenda of import substitution as he urged the farmers not to derail the deal.

"There were periods throughout the year when people could land onions at $35 and $45 per pound from Holland. We in the ministry, in supporting your production, did something that was overgenerous, which was to control the imports, to protect you. That is not in the interest of the consumers; if we continue to do things like that we'll jeopardise the programme. So $50 per pound is where we need to start at," insisted Pike.

Don McGlashan, director general in the Ministry of Investment, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries, also tried to get the farmers to accept the price.

"As chairman of the onion technical working group, and having looked at figures and see what is happening, we did a cost of production which came out at $25 a pound. Somebody offers $50 and we shoot them down without even thinking about it. This can't be the way we do business.

"I know a farmer wants money and a farmer deserves money, but it must be done in a methodical way, is a business we doing," said McGlashan.

But the farmers were not swayed as they ended the review adamant that the $60 a pound was the minimum they would accept, ignoring a warning from agriculture ministry officials that this could derail the programme.

That did not satisfy McGlashan, but he told our news team that he remains optimistic that the situation can be resolved.

 

BUSINESS CULTURE

 

"I think we can take comfort from the relationship which has existed so far between the buyers and the growers, and we are there as the ministry, as well to help to ensure that we facilitate this kind of working relationship," said McGlashan.

"We are trying to get the farmers to be more technically aware, sophisticated in how he or she approaches onion production. Agriculture is a science and onion requires exacting science to produce it successfully. We also want them to be aware of the business culture, which must be employed to do agriculture generally, yes, and onion in particular.

"We want to increase production, we want to increase productivity, we want to have at the end of the day a farmer much more equipped and suited to compete in this (global) competitive environment."

christopher.serju@gleanerjm.com