Help coming for onion farmers – Charles Jr
Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Pearnel Charles Jr has indicated a keen interest in increasing productivity among farmers so that the industry can better cater to the needs of the local market.
One of the areas in which he hopes to see this improvement is in onion production.
As a metric, the newly appointed minister, who led a tour of onion farms in St Thomas on Wednesday, shared the ministry’s intention to increase the output of the crop by more than 250 per cent over the prior year.
This projection, according to Charles Jr, was made by the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA).
Speaking with The Gleaner, RADA’s agronomist Locksley Waites revealed that, during the last onion season, the industry satisfied the need of only 20 per cent of the market.
“This season, we are targeting to plant 400 hectares of land and we are hoping that, of that, we can achieve a yield of 17 1/2 hectares, which is the international yield. We can then draw about the amount that will cater to 70 per cent of the economy. It’s a tall order but it can be done,” he said.
Waites noted that, since the start of the crop in October, farmers have planted up to 150 hectares, a large percentage of which was done in St Thomas.
“The planting seasons are fall and spring. By the end of fall, we should have passed at least half of our target, so I am confident that we should meet the target,” he said, adding that RADA and the agriculture ministry have been supporting the farmers with seeds and the necessary technical advice.
Lelieth McKenzie, who has been producing onions for some five years, expressed confidence in herself and colleagues to meet the high goal.
According to her, “I see that happening. I have an acre now and, sooner or later, I’m going to plant more. My sons will also have about two acres together. It can work. Once land is available, we can make it.”
McKenzie, who operates at the Yallahs Agro Park in St Thomas, however, admitted that there will be challenges.
“We will need fertilisers and at least two tractors. This onion season, is a tractor from Clarendon they got so we could plant at the right time. Some of us could have planted from earlier if it was available. Without the tractor, it will throw us off,” she said, adding that the crop was greatly affected by beet army worms last season because they planted too late because of tractor woes.
Fellow farmer Cleon Fagan described the high yield as being too ambitious.
“The cost of production is too expensive. When I used to pay $16,000 for hose, it’s now $39,000. My fertiliser used to cost $6,980 about three weeks ago. Now its $11,500. My cost to weed is $3,000 per day and I have to use six persons per week. So check that.
It’s not going to be easy to increase production, not for now,” Fagan said.
McKenzie and Fagan both echoed the calls of other farmers for assistance from the ministry with offsetting the cost of fertiliser.
Responding to the calls, Minister Charles indicated that some level of relief is on the way.
Vaguely touching on the extent of the impending backing, he said, “Something big will be happening in terms of support for farmers, and it arises from international partnerships. More details will be provided in short order.”