The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries is pushing to expand the local sugar industry and bring back some 20,000 hectares of land into sugar cane production, over the next four years.
Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Hon. Roger Clarke, made the announcement at a seminar on: ‘Revolutionising the Sugar Cane Industry through Drip Irrigation’, held in Kendal, Manchester, on July 26. The seminar was hosted by Jamaica Drip Irrigation.
Mr. Clarke told the large group of farmers and other industry personnel that, “we are about 12,000 (hectares) now and we need to lift that. We have to put back all those idle lands into production."
He also noted that farmers need to lift the tonnes per acre yield from the low of 50 and 54 tonnes. “At that rate, we are not competitive and especially in the irrigated areas, because the cost of irrigation water is almost prohibitive regardless of what the government does,” said the Minister.
Mr. Clarke explained that the Sugar Transformation Unit (STU) of his Ministry has put in place $1.2 billion for the cane expansion programme. This has come from the Cane Expansion Fund, which is to provide additional funding to support increased cane production to a minimum of 3.5 million tonnes and to enhance productivity and efficiency in the sugar cane subsector.
The Minister also announced an increase in the loan amounts provided to farmers for irrigation purposes. “For irrigated areas the amount will move from $158,000 to $200,000 per hectare and in the non irrigated areas, it will be moved from $148,000 to $190,000 per hectare,” the Minister said.
He pointed out that increased emphasis will be placed on how the land is prepared and that agronomic practices will be properly monitored.
Stating that the drip irrigation system is probably the most efficient, Mr. Clarke asked local manufacturers, Jamaica Drip Irrigation, to work with the farmers to make it more affordable.
“You (Jamaica Drip Irrigation) will have to work with us and be as reasonable as you can, because the more people who come onto the system is the more money you will be able to make; so if the volume is there, you can bring it down a little,” the Minister argued.
Speaking on the topic: ‘Principles of Drip Irrigation and Sub Surface Drip irrigation Implementation’, Vice President of Jamaica Drip Irrigation, Dovi Ayalon, listed several advantages to using the system. He explained that the system saves on water, there is no evaporation from the soil surface, and the water and nutrients are carried directly to the root of the plants.
Other presentations came from Agricultural Engineer, Lance White, who spoke on ‘Challenges in Implementing Drip (from a farmer’s perspective)’; and Chief Executive Officer of New Yarmouth Estate, Ian Maxwell, who spoke on ‘Best Practices in the Industry and Results of Implementation’.