‘Living off hope’
Losses climb into the millions on parched St Elizabeth farms
Without breathing room to recover from a mystery disease that has been ravaging their watermelon crops over the last two years, several St Elizabeth fruit and vegetable farmers are yet again tallying huge losses as a prolonged drought deals them another blow.
Flagaman farmer John Davis is among those whose watermelon crops have been affected by causing their watermelons to rot on the inside while appearing perfect on the outside.
Last Friday, he lamented that the farmers are still in the dark as to the results of the findings of tests conducted on watermelons last year.
“The fact that the Ministry of Agriculture has not released the findings from tests that were carried out to help us to get around the problem is contributing to our losses in revenue,” he pointed out, adding that the watermelon spoilage is still affecting farms in the parish.
But added to that, the farmers are now seeing even more reduced yields due to parched conditions caused by what many regard as one of the worst droughts to have hit the island’s Breadbasket Parish.
According to Davis, the drought has caused him to lose millions of dollars as it devastated his watermelon, tomato, cantaloupe, and onion crops.
In years gone by, he would normally harvest up to 10,000 pounds of watermelon from his farm, but he was unable to reap even a single pound from the current crop.
OVER $2M IN LOSSES
“We are talking here of more than $1.5 million in losses, and if I factor other variables such as labour, fertiliser and water, it would run in the region of over $2 million [in losses] from watermelon alone,” he told The Gleaner last week.
His tomato crop has fared better with a 100-pound yield, but this was just a tenth of the usual 1,000-pound harvest.
The cantaloupe and onion crops have also yielded less than a quarter of the standard amount.
“We planted with the expectation that we would get the regular seasonal rainfall and make up for any shortfall with water purchased from the National Irrigation Commission (NIC),” the multi-crop farmer explained.
Davis said it is not feasible to purchase water to operate his drip irrigation system to sustain the crops during the drought because of the costs involved.
“One truckload [of water] costs up to $12,000 and this cannot provide enough water that is needed for a day’s supply for my farms. It would require millions of dollars to purchase water,” he said.
The farmer said there are also delivery challenges as it sometimes takes up to a week for the water ordered to be delivered to his farm as the NIC does not have enough trucks to fill all orders in a timely manner.
Like Davis, farmer Deron Moxam noted that the drought has not only devastated crops, but it has also caused a dramatic increase in costs.
Moxam, who specialises in the same variety of crops as Davis, estimated his losses at more than $4 million.
“Right now, I am living off hope. The Government promised us irrigation water a few weeks ago, and all we can do is hope that it come sooner,” he told The Gleaner.
In his recent contribution to the Budget Debate, Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced a US$200-million Pedro Plains irrigation scheme that should benefit farmers in Flagaman and other sections of St Elizabeth.
He said that a feasibility study had been conducted with the support of the French government and that the water will be channelled from the Black River.
Holness stated that the project will be funded with government resources as well as grants and loans from the French government.
Moxam is hoping that even as work is ongoing to build out the planned irrigation system, the authorities will find a way to supply water to the farmers at least three times weekly until the rains come.