Cash crops scarce

MANDEVILLE, Manchester — Even as farmers in two south-central parishes say they are benefiting from the increase in cash crops costs in the field, president of the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS) Lenworth Fulton is concerned that consumers will be affected by high prices with the festive season fast approaching.

“For those farmers who are getting better prices, we always support that, but there is another side to that. Can the consumer afford it?” he asked.

Farmers in Manchester and St Elizabeth say tomato, sweet pepper, scallion, watermelon, thyme and cabbage are among the produce now scarce.

Fulton, in responding to the delight of some farmers that their produce is now in high demand, is concerned that consumers may face high prices for produce in December.

“When you consider [that] tomato was in the Linstead Market last week selling for as much as $500 a pound. We are a little bit concerned about the high prices going into Christmas. We want the farmers to make money, but not at all cost,” he said on Tuesday.

In recent weeks adverse weather systems including Hurricane Ian, which passed south of Jamaica, have affected farmers’ produce.

Fulton said areas which grow vegetables in vast portions — Manchester and St Elizabeth — have been affected.

“With rains again now coming from this cyclone they call Lisa, it is not a good picture for the availability of most of our vegetables that are gone in vegetable belts that are presently too saturated to even grow crops,” he explained.

“We are not very happy with the situation although we cannot do anything about it, in agriculture it is not only about the farmer; it is about the consumer too. We sincerely hope that we will find a balance, but our forecast is that most vegetables will be expensive going into the Christmas season,” he added.

Everton Holness, a farmer at Chocolate Hole near Junction in St Elizabeth, said only cucumber is not scarce right now.

“There is a shortage of the goods [catch crops] right now. Everything short is only cucumber frequent. We are still planting, but they are not bearing… you are going to find that some of the crops will [be ready] for Christmas. You’re not going to get the full crop, but at least you will get a half a crop,” he explained.

“You cyah find the produce as fast… People want the produce, but you only find a small amount, so you find out seh nuff people not getting any. Imagine seh [vendors] go market where tomatoes are one of the main things dem go wid and dem have to go without it now. Many years now me nuh see this happen,” he added.

Fulton is hopeful that normality will return to the market.

“You can look for by the end of this month we will get back to normal,” he said.

Further, Tarique Bennett, a young farmer in Cobbla, north-east Manchester, explained that most cash crops have been affected by adverse weather.

“When the weather is too good everybody has [produce], so the prices are down, but if you have rain or excessive periods of drought you know the price goes up more,” he said.

“Most cash crops are affected by this weather, because you have to buy more chemicals. It takes more to preserve and to keep them through this type of weather. You have to be smart to know how to spray as a farmer,” he added.

And Conrad Murray, a farmer in New Forest in south Manchester, is predicting that normality will return to the market by January.

“Farmer a get [good] prices for things now, we just nuh want it to go too much [where] the consumer will suffer, we have a scarcity now. Everything will be back to normal by January. Tomatoes are going to be scarce in December. Melons are going to be scarce until about January/ February. Things look positive for farmers and consumers,” he said.

“Thyme selling for $600, sweet pepper is $400 in the field, basically those prices now per pound for produce,” he added.

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