Delays in accessing funds promised by Government and extended drought conditions and fires this year could result in a major decline in sugar production in 2015.
Managing director of Sunbury and Hampton Plantations in St Philip and Colleton Plantation in St John, Richard Armstrong, made this dire prediction during an interview with Barbados TODAY.
Under an arrangement with Government, through the Barbados Agricultural Management Company Ltd (BAMC), sugar farmers expected to receive $110 to $120 per tonne of cane reaped this year.
However, Armstrong said that they have so far only received half of what they need to carry out the planting of the canes, purchase fertilizers and debush the cane fields, even though the planting season is well on its way.
“This year, we were paid $60 per tonne of cane with the understanding that we would be paid the additional $60 at the end of the crop. This would have allowed us to pay for herbicides, fertilizers, pay wages and do whatever is necessary to prepare for the 2015 crop, but so far it has not been disbursed,” he lamented.
“It is more than necessary that we receive this extra $60. Some of us, on the promise that we would have received this money, have gone on and carried out the planting. In the past, the plantations used to take the risk and finance the planting of the canes with the hope that they would receive the money spent. However, with the price of sugar dropping on the world market it has become difficult to pay for the services up front.”
Armstrong urged the authorities to take action urgently to ensure the sugar industry can reap the necessary benefits.
“In agriculture, you need to do what you have to do when you have to do it. You cannot leave the spraying of bush in your fields for two weeks if the rain is falling. When you come to do it, either it would not be done properly or you would be wasting your money. If you do not apply your fertilizer at a specific time it does not make any sense applying it because the plant will not benefit from what you have done. People have to realize that in agriculture funding needs to be done on time,” the plantation owner added.
Armstrong also expressed concern that Barbadians have failed to appreciate the vital role of the sugar industry.
He suggested that unless there was a change in the mindset, the industry would not be given the respect and support it deserves.
The planter said not only is the industry economically beneficial, but it has environmental benefits that people have not acknowledged.
“People are short-sighted when it comes to the sugar industry, in terms of what the island gains from it. I have heard many people on the call-in programmes complaining about the number of caterpillars, butterflies and worms that are destroying their cabbage and plants in general. It is nothing more than the simple fact that so little cane is being planted that the island is overrun with bush,” Armstrong contended.
“In the past, when Barbados was like a garden with every piece of available land being properly farmed, you never had these problems. You only have to take a drive through
St John and St George and you would see once well-cultivated arable land being overrun with bush.”
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