Food prices set to soar

NEW FOREST, Manchester — A Manchester farmer who plants several cash crops is telling Jamaicans to brace for an up to 35 per cent increase in prices following the flood rains last week.

The New Forest farmer, Conrad Murray, told the Jamaica Observer on Monday that the torrential rainfall between Wednesday and Friday has caused a setback for farmers.

“The three days of rain are going to set us back two to three weeks, meaning it could affect the prices for the next two to three weeks. After Christmas, then you will see the prices go back to normal,” Murray said.

“The prices will attract at least 30 to 35 per cent increase for most vegetables — scallion, thyme, tomato, cucumber,” he predicted.

His projection has been echoed by Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS) President Lenworth Fulton, who said that while an estimate of the losses has not yet been determined “the damage is still significant”.

According to Fulton, many farmers had two- to three-week-old vegetables in the field — such as lettuce, cabbage and pak choi — which have been destroyed.

“We expect that they are going to lose some production due to the rain,” he said.

“The eastern parishes and the vegetable belt in Douglas Castle; places in Bog Hole, Aenon Town area (all in northern Clarendon) suffered the drowning of crops. The damage was widespread, and we must remember that one of the setbacks would be the middle of the Irish potato land preparation,” added Fulton.

Up to Monday the Ministry of Agriculture, as well as the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA), had not determined the extent of the damage or indicated how prices would be affected.

Minister of Agriculture Floyd Green, in a post on social media platform Xon Monday, said a report is to be finalised this week on the extent of damage.

“Our RADA parish teams have been out since Saturday morning, assessing the extent of damage done by Tropical Depression 22. Southern and eastern parishes were most impacted, including St Thomas, Portland, St Catherine, Clarendon, Manchester, and St Elizabeth,” he said.

“Almost all farming communities in St Thomas have been negatively impacted and have seen loss. About 400 farmers in east rural St Andrew were impacted largely by land slippage. Parts of Bernard Lodge, Hartlands, Lakes Pen in St Catherine also [saw] significant impact,” added Green.

The agriculture minister said several crops were affected.

“Seeing significant impact on hot pepper, sweet pepper, corn, cabbage, cassava, lettuce, sorrel, and onion. Also losses to our chicken farmers. Will have finalised the report this week,” he said.

Murray said the heavy rains pummelled the crops, leaving farmers to dig deep to restore production.

“We got battered, but we can recover some crops — thyme, scallion, cabbage, lettuce and pak choi. With the excess rain, it weakens the plant so we will have to respray and so on,” he said, adding that other farms were flooded.

“The fields are under water because once it floods more than one day, we lose the plant,” he explained.

Everton Holness, a farmer at Chocolate Hole near Junction in St Elizabeth, shared a similar sentiment.

“It damaged some suckers that we had. We have watermelon that just started to bear; the rain burns up the crops, it turns them black [so] we have to spray them and get them going. The rain gave them a stunt. We have cabbage that is near ready and we start to see some of them rotting,” he said.

“I know the price a go turn up pon things, enuh, because right now basically everything scarce. Basically, the prices are high already and the demands are going to come on higher,” he added.

Fulton is calling on the Government to address the farmers’ plight swiftly to stabilise the sector.

“It is going to need some quick help to get some fertiliser to rejuvenate what is left of the crop. The weeds will grow rapidly so farmers will need some weed killers. After these rains you generally have a very rapid regrowth of grass, which you will have to control. You will also need fungicides,” he said.

“When you have heavy showers it affects prices in every category. [Even] those crops that are underground — sweet potato, Irish potato, yam, coco, dasheen — you have significant spoilage of these too with waterlogging,” added Fulton.