Christopher Serju, Gleaner Writer
IN ADDITION to its tissue culture lab and greenhouse at the back of its Main Street office in Christiana, Manchester, the Christiana Potato Growers Co-operative has eight greenhouses ranging in size from 3,000 to 7,500 square feet at Devon in the parish. It also has cold-storage facilities at Coleyville, which it is seeking to upgrade. With a 600-tonne storage facility already in place, it wants to double this capacity and improve on the cold-storage capability - adding grading, processing and packaging of produce to its résumé.
This is in keeping with what General Manager Alvin Murray describes as a serious renewal of the 51-year-old institution, as reflected in its motto, 'Community Renaissance Through Diversification and Technology'.
A preliminary look at its operations at Christiana supports Murray's claim of a renewal. Among other things, The Gleaner was able to view a nuclear plot of Irish potato developed from tissue culture already producing seed potatoes under a pilot project.
Here, there are more fascinating examples of Jamaican inventiveness. Grounded in discarded tyres, the roots of the plants are sprayed with fertiliser mixed with water.
"The root just getting the mist and that is how they get their nutrients, and I am hoping that we can have a greenhouse - strictly aeroponics," Murray said.
"The potatoes that you see on the table, they were planted in December and harvested in June, so we just break off the potatoes and leave the potato plant standing, the mother is bearing again. It is now driving this principal that the tubers are gonna grow and hang down here and we just break them off as they form, without damaging the roots and we continuously reap tubers for 60 days, instead of just one crop."
He added: "We are utilising old tyres, and when I asked how much it would cost to fill all these (with a medium such as coir, perlite, or soil), it was frightening, and then I started looking at this: could I grow any of these plants without any medium? And already it is saying yes. I don't need no medium at all inside, just hold it in place, stabilise the plant and I have the wire on top to trellis it all - any crop in the greenhouse can be grown this way now."
When he could not find a small enough nozzle to provide the desired spray volume to support the experiment in aeroponics - an improvement over hydroponics which sees the plant suspended in the air and sprayed with a nutrient mix at specific intervals - Murray went back to basics. He took a hypodermic needle, cut it to the desired length and anchored it to the hosing through which the nutrient solution is channelled. Providing the power for the pump, which is timed to spray for two minutes at 10-minute intervals, is a 12-volt DC battery (car battery), which in turn is recharged by a solar panel on the roof of the cooperative's office.
With all this on show, consistent with the Government's drive to improve food security, the cooperative still finds itself facing an uphill task to attract the necessary funding to move from the trial stage to a viable large-scale operation, according to its general manager.
"The income from this, the co-op can't spend a cent out of it because we don't have the money to sustain the operation. It should be a ministry of agriculture or Development Bank of Jamaica doing it, if you ask me. So, we want some help."