John Myers, Business Reporter
Stacks of packaged rice on a supermarket shelf. Jamaica is exploring plans to get back into rice production.
Dudley Beek, who for more than a decade operated on the periphery of Jamaica's now dormant rice growing sector, is offering to sell his expertise to investors who plan to revive domestic production, but wants a piece of their operation in return.
Beek, the owner of aerial spraying firm and fertiliser distributor, Dustair Limited, offered publicly through a newspaper advertisement to provide technical support to landowners interested in developing rice farms.
But Dustair, which operates out of St Mary, will only work with operations with targeted yield of a minimum 5,000 pounds of rice per acre, Beek told the Financial Gleaner.
"We have the expertise in planting, fertilising and controlling crop diseases in rice in Jamaica, Guyana and Suriname," said Beek's ad.
"We have underutilised agricultural aircraft and are looking to put this excess capacity to work."
Beek said the ad has generated interest, but also said that any deal-making would have to await a technical visit to Belize.
"A number of people have come out," he said.
The Belize visit is for consultation with a rice producer to gather information on production costs, up-to-date growing techniques and yields for a project proposal to be developed by next month.
Dustair, alongside aerial spraying, distributes fertiliser to the sugar and banana sectors.
Beek said he was involved in the spraying of rice fields from 1976 up to 1992 when the last crop was planted in Jamaica.
Those fields were retired after Jamaica determined that it could not produce rice economically, turning instead to imports from the United States and CARICOM neighbours.
A month ago, Jamaican policymakers began exploring the possibility of resuscitating the rice sector after fears of a pending shortage sent the grain to record prices on the world market, and rice producing countries signalled that they would be limiting exports to build up domestic inventories.
Two private companies, the agriculture ministry said, have since indicated that they are willing to fund the plan, which envisages the replanting of 5,000 to 6,000 acres.
Beek says he has two S2R agricultural aircraft capable of sowing rice seeds from the air, and distributing fertiliser.
The St Mary businessman said he was targeting September, although slightly later than the desirable time, to finalise a partnership and commence rice planting, but would be requesting government to provide some guarantees on the investment.
"Once you start importing rice from other countries cheaper than what it costs to produce it in Jamaica, then you put our rice farmers out of business," he said. "It is vulnerable to market manipulation."
He said Dustair and its prospective partners would be aiming to establish an operation with a yield of at least 5,000 pounds of rice per acre, based off international benchmarks.
Otherwise, he said, the operation would not reach desirable levels of efficiency to be viable.