As a boy, Grantley Hurley would help his father cut sugar cane after school. So it was only fitting that when he left the classroom he answered the call of the canefields.
He started working at Springhead Plantation in St James, and went on to ten others over the next 50 years.
The work was hard, but rewarding for the 62-year-old, who has witnessed several changes in the industry over the last few decades.
“It changed a lot from when I first started, because when I first started, cane was a lot different than it is today. The cane grew a lot more, a lot better. We were able to cut more tonnage and produce more than now.
“It’s difficult now, because all I’m doing is just working in the field. And that’s not like cutting cane, because you make more money cutting cane; and in the crop season it’s a lot more money,” Hurley told Barbados TODAY.
The outlook for this year’s crop is not very promising, as the ongoing drought has taken its toll on the crop.
“The cane ain’t that much this year. That’s why we ain’t cutting no cane. I guess because they’re not having a big crop this year, probably the harvesters will cut the most of it.
“. . . We’re not having the rain; these canes need water. They [are] dry. From early as December they were drying; and look at them now. Very dry!” he said.
Hurley reminisced on his early years as a cane cutter, when the sugar cane industry was flourishing.
“Those days were great! We enjoyed that because in those days we had so much youngsters cutting cane and loading cane and what not; so we used to make fun with it. We were in it about the money because you make a lot of money during the crop season.
“So it’s a lot different now, because in those days the cane was so good you never had to work all that hard to make a dollar like now. The crop now, as you can see . . . how they look; so we have to work harder now than before,” Hurley said.
“You don’t have to work as hard in the field as if you’re cutting cane. Because I just go through and I take out the bushes throughout the fields; but cutting cane, I have to be going all day –– from six probably to about six in the afternoon. But in the field I start at seven and I finish at three.
“I miss cutting cane, because I love it!”
Speaking to Barbados TODAY from the Mount Gay Field in St Lucy, where he now works, Hurley said another change he had witnessed is the transition of the sugar industry.
“They still trying to keep these things going, but a lot of these plantations come out of cane now. They’re coming out of sugar and going into rum. They planting the cane to do molasses for rum.
“So, I mean, to get back like where we was before like the 1970s and 1980s, when we were producing so much sugar, a lot of these plantations will have to come back. But then again, it needs the water and financing,”
Despite the changes and challenges in the industry, Hurley remains committed to the craft he has developed all his life, and it was this dedication that earned him the King Of The Crop title for 16 years.
“The first time I won [King Of The Crop], I was so delighted! Because I had a few fellas before me. My brother, he died: Carlisle Drakes; and another guy from Rock Hall. They were two very good cane cutters. And I always wanted to be up with them.”
However, Hurley has not spent all of his working life in Barbados. At one point, he took his skills to the United States, where he worked for several years on sugar plantations in Florida. He also spent three years in Canada –– from 1990 to 1993 –– working on vegetable farms in Nova Scotia and Ontario.
“I worked in Florida for 18 years. Spent six years cutting, and then I was supervisor for 12 years. I was on contract over there; so I had to go and come back each year . . . .
“But at those times, those guys were way ahead of me; so I couldn’t win nothing then. I start coming second and third behind those two men for a long, long time. But after they stepped out, I became first.
“The first time was way back in 1995. Then I keep going on; win six times straight. Then another guy win; came back and win two times straight; stopped, and then I went on from there –– eight straight now.”
He is not sure if there will be a competition this year, as very few individuals are cutting cane; however Hurley plans to continue working the fields, at least for the time being.
“This year I just relaxing and working until probably next year when the industry come back up a bit.
“Well I have two or three more years, and then I believe I will come out by that time. I also am a farmer; so I have my own farm that I do vegetables and so. So when I come out of there, I will go full time into that.”
It is something to look forward to, especially as his farm in Greenland is flourishing, he said, except for the problem of monkeys that destroy some of the crops.
In the meantime, Hurley is enjoying this year’s jubilee celebrations, full of pride that his country has reached its milestone of 50 years of Independence.
“It mean a lot to me because for all those things that happen in those years, everything, they highlighting everything, you know, and for a lot of youngsters that come after me
to see. I mean it’s very good,” he stated.
He added that he would like to see the sugar industry return to its glory days, but admitted he was not sure it would happen without proper financing and an improvement in weather conditions.