Farming stuck in 1966 - Champion farmer calls for modernisation and crop substitution
Jamaica's number-one-ranked farmer, Neville Grant, has recommended that the Government look to the widescale cultivation of corn and soybeans as alternatives for farmers who want to exit sugar-cane cultivation.
According to Grant, if farmers are introduced to these alternatives, and given the requisite state support, it could reduce the country's importation of those products, and the surplus could be exported to CARICOM countries.
Jamaica now imports almost 100 per cent of the corn and soybeans being used for animal feedstock and human consumption.
"Soybeans and corn as the alternative to sugar cane - that's the route Jamaica should go. Corn is a world product, and so is soy. If you have it here in abundance, you would not have to be importing so much," said Grant, who is the 2016 Jamaica Agricultural Society's champion farmer.
"Most of these [sugar cane] farmers already have machinery, so you have to now retrofit these machines so that they can be used for reaping and planting corn, and you could probably buy a few planters and so forth. If the Government could select a few good farmers with land on the plains and do a trial to plant corn and soya beans and subsidise them, you would see that it would work."
Grant operates the Green River Farm in Green Island, Hanover, a 126-acre, self-sustaining property, where he has a state-of the-art piggery operation with more than 1,000 heads of pigs, as well as cattle and small ruminants.
A dental technologist by profession, he returned to Jamaica from the United States three years ago.
He believes food cultivation in Jamaica remains largely inefficient and decades behind that of countries like the US.
"I think Jamaica is about 50 years behind in farming. We have to start modernising our systems and make them efficient so they can be profitable. If you are farming and you don't have the efficiency, then you are not going to get the profitability," Grant said.
"One of the big problems that I see here is that the land that is suitable for mechanised farming is used for housing and sugar cane. We can't use mechanised equipment on the hillside; we have to use them on the plains, and we are doing the thing in reverse," added Grant.
He said storage facilities are also needed across the island to curb food shortages and fluctuating prices.
"Farmers would sell the produce to the storage facilities - probably owned by the Government or by the private sector - and we would be just concentrating on planting and selling to these places," he said.
"So we wouldn't have, for example, tomato prices being high when there is a drop in production. We would have a constant flow and a constant price."