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Lettuce be fair

A part of the farm that is dedicated to aquaculture.

by Latoya Burnham

A level playing field for his organic lettuce is what one farmer is calling for, even as he launches into a completely new area — supplying crayfish to the local market.

Manager of Nature’s Produce, Tim Walsh argued that while the production of lettuce on his St. Peter-based farm was down, as much as one-third of his capacity was unutilised because of competition from imported romaine lettuce.

“So we have capital sitting down doing nothing but yet they are importing romaine lettuce. Now I am sure some of you would be guilty as well of eating the romaine lettuce. It’s expensive, but the issue is that the romaine comes with soil. It comes in with soil on the outside wrappers and the supermarkets will peel them off that’s why they will become a much smaller head, but that soil is coming into the country and it is illegal.”

Walsh was addressing his concerns to farmers of a workshop on renewable energy options for agriculture, along with agriculture officials during a tour of his facility today. He said he had taken his concerns to Ministry of Agriculture officials, even offered to pay the cost of testing the soil on the product, but got nowhere.

He argued that in order for the agriculture sector, and organic farming to progress, officials would have to meet farmers halfway by helping them keep their local markets for produce.

“I will show you letters that we have been trying to tackle this with, but it can’t be one man. As far as they are concerned I’m just trying to upset everybody and interfering with the process, but the process is: Where are people going to invest and get their return? And that now becomes the most critical part of the development of agriculture? Where is your market?” he queried.

But even as he fights for his lettuce market, the manager said keeping his farm organic-based was hard, but the circular nature of how the plants and animals were integrated was helping create a new product for the local market — crayfish.

There are six acres of land dedicated to green water aquaculture, where freshwater catchment areas also contain a special type water lettuce, talapia and crayfish, with pipes that feed the water back into areas of the farm. It is what he called a poly-culture, where one element fed on another, in a beneficial cycle.

Because of his processes and lack of chemicals, he explained that it was easier to cultivate market-ready talapia and moreso crayfish, for which he has already received requests.

“I actually had people requesting this [crayfish] to be sent to Bahrain. So this would be a beauty if we could get it to work in Barbados, simply because you will work exactly the same concept that you work for your water catchment, and you utilise your water catchment for your aquaculture.”

The investment, he noted, was massive — some $350,000 — to get the project to this stage, and that is without earning a single cent in return.

While they were also looking at selling the fish which grew to about a pound-and-a-quarter, Walsh said the concern was that the fish were reproducing too quickly and he was currently awaiting the arrival of male talapia to help with the situation.

The crayfish though, he maintained, were ready for consumption by the local market.

“We, literally in another week,… will be selling to hotels. We will probably be selling through the van we have going out. We want to control what is going on for the start.”

He said it could take about nine months for the crayfish to fully mature, although there were smaller ones at about three months that could also be harvested.

“Basically it is a premium product. It is eating anywhere between better than a shrimp but not as good as a Maine Lobster, but lower in cholesterol than lobster and shrimp by about 30 per cent. For us in Barbados, it is a fresh product for the tourist industry. This is a premium product people are going to be putting on the shelf and it grows in Barbados.”

It also represented, he said, a particular niche market for the country.

“This is the kind of thing that when we talk about agriculture and looking to develop niches, this is the type of product that there needs to be a lot more focus and work done towards because it takes time. This project here is basically three years without bringing a penny, without having earned anything yet.

“So when you do a development that is the whole thing; someone has to be doing the research and development and if you do it and go through all this trouble, who is making and creating the access, who is regulating the market? You can’t ask another person to do this with the financial commitment and then allow silliness to happen. I think basically for all the farmers unless they have access to market and are guaranteed, they are not going to make the investment.”

One Response to Lettuce be fair

  1. John Carter September 7, 2012 at 6:58 am

    My sympathy to this farmer and others who are trying to provide import substituted food. Barbados for all of its talk still does not understand the importane to the future of this countyr of sustainable agriculture and that sustainable agriculture needs sustained support from consumers.


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