Up in smoke
by Shawn Cumberbatch
One of Barbados’ leading plantations has seen a third of its 2013 sugar crop destroyed by fire weeks before harvesting begins.
This was about 600 tonnes of an overall plantation sugar cane production of about 2,000 tonnes originally expected this year.
At a time when private growers represented by the Barbados Sugar Industries Limited are appealing for Government assistance, when a three month drought last year affected cultivation, and when farmers were paid less for their canes, the agriculturalist told Barbados TODAY this week’s destruction “set me back very badly”.
“That’s is roughly about 600 tonnes of cane. Normally it is about 30 tonnes of cane per acre and 30 multiplied by 20 is about 600 so that is roughly how much canes we lost. The fire bug has started already,” he said during a telephone interview this afternoon.
“This has set me back badly because the revenue from those canes would have been about $40,000.
“Every year I get problems with this. One year I lost 34 acres, it is crazy. It would not have been as bad if they burn them during the crop season because you wouldn’t lose them because I could always cut them and sell them to the factory, but when you burn them now when the crop has not started that is a big loss.
“We the plantations are out here struggling right now, struggling badly and trying to make ends meet and sometimes we can’t even get it meet and now we have gone and lost big,” he lamented.
Gittens, who supervises a staff of 10 cultivating 188 acres of arable land, said such a big loss was compounded by the fact that reduced rainfall last year meant sugar production would already have been negatively affected. This was in addition to a shortage of spray to rid the fields of cow itch and weeds.
“To be quite honest with you the yields are not going to be great this year because we had about three month’s drought, so the canes were still on the small side because they didn’t get a lot of rain,” he noted.
“One of the problems we have had too is that we can’t even get the spray to spray the weeds and the cane. There is a type of spray that we get from (a local supplier), and they have been waiting on the shipment and upwards to now they have gotten it.
“And that was another setback too because you are going to get more grass now inside the canes, cow itch is going to grow more because there was really nothing to spray it down.
“The fields have in some cow itch, but I went through with my tractor to break it down just to keep away the cow itch because at the time I sprayed the cow itch they did not have pods yet,” he added.
As for the price farmers were being paid for their canes, Gittens said when compared to operational costs the $50 per tonne expected “is nothing”.
“I have got to pay to get my canes harvested. Last year my crop finished pretty early, I reaped about 2,700 tones of cane. I collected about $115,000 for the canes, I had to pay over $90,000 to reap them, then when I fertilised the canes the fertiliser bill came in and the fertiliser bill was $30,000,” he explained.
“So you can see where I am coming from, and I have not even told you about wages and the other stuff you have got to buy. So we have got to plant a lot of food to keep our head a little above water, but you will still be in the red.
“People out there don’t know how hard it is – we farmers out here are struggling,” he said.
For this St. Michael plantation owned by Sir Charles Williams, the theft of sugar cane, sweet potatoes and other crops was also a problem, and Gittens appealed to the police to do more to help farmers affected by praedial larceny.
“The police hardly do anything about it. Right now you are going to see fellows next to the road selling cane. They don’t stop and ask them where they get them from or nothing,” he said.
“You get potatoes steal and when you call them they come maybe about three to four days after, sometimes they don’t even bother to come. The farmers get frustrated and drop out the business.
“And then when the farmers get frustrated and decide to divide up the land and sell it you hear ‘Oh, you are selling good agricultural land’,” he asserted. email@example.com