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May 20, 2008

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Bob Knaus

Amen to your observations on Bahamian agriculture!

I am the son of a son of a farmer, and I grew up on a vegetable farm in Homestead FL which has soils and conditions virtually identical to Andros and the Abacos. I'd like to add a few comments as to why it's a REALLY bad idea for the Bahamas to pursue large-scale agricultural development.

First, the Bahamas is at a permanent disadvantage with regards to an agricultural labor force. The farms in south FL rely on a pool of migrant (mostly Mexican) labor who are accustomed to doing seasonal piecework. A good picker can make 2 to 3 times minimum wage, for a few weeks, and then move north to other work as the season progresses. The Bahamas has a largely stationary labor force, which means that the Haitians who do agricultural work must live on nothing when there is no work to be done. No surprise then, when few people want to be farm laborers!

Secondly, being a scattered archipelago makes it very difficult to tap into the US transportation system in a timely manner. A truckload of produce can make it from Guatemala to New York City sooner than a truckload from the Exumas can. Why did I pick NYC? That's where we always got the highest prices for our best strawberries... if you can sell it there, you can sell it anywhere :-)

Thirdly, the environmental impact of large-scale farming would be significant in the Bahamas. The islands are long and narrow, the rock is porous, the freshwater lenses are thin. Whatever fertilizers and pesticides are applied will quickly end up in the ocean. I think the tourism and fisheries value of Bahamian waters far exceeds any gain that might be had from raising crops.

Here's hoping those agricultural schemes turn out to be nothing but hot air!


Erik

"...Bahamian pothole farmers..." LOL!

Good one, Larry!

Earl Deveaux

Your very well written article in today's Tribune is a telling example of my dilemma when you in particular tell me about leadership.

Perhaps more people will read what you write today than will ever hear the words I utter, or fail to utter; and will never know what I did today.

I cannot agree more with your analysis of the historical failures and the ridiculous notion of The Bahamas being completely self sufficient in food. However, there is very much we can do to grow an agricultural industry - forestry, trees, nursery plants, and a wide range of suitable crops - to provide more of what we consume.

I always look to Dade County, Florida as a example (Avocadoes, Beans, Cucumbers, Corn, Coconuts, Cassava, Okra, Onions, Strawberries, Dairy, Mangoes, Squash, Limes)

Dade County, Florida, generates more than a billion dollars in agricultural receipts annually, on on 85,000 acres of land similar to our pine rocklands, in a climate similar to that of The Bahamas.

You have written of the failures. Are there examples of success that can insire? Or are we forever doomed to failure?

Can Brazil teach us anything about agriculture? Florida? Taiwan? Israel?

Larry, your cynicsm is choking. You do not look for bright spots, but always to the dark failures.Yet you write so well

Nanaqu2

What can the government do to make the Bahamians interested in farming?

larry smith

Thanks for the compliments, Earl. Now for the criticisms...

I believe most would agree that our climate, land conditions and water resources are unsuitable for the growing of rice.

In addition, I understand this issue was investigated exhaustively by Israeli experts some years ago, with the conclusion that it was entirely unworkable.

So for the minister of agriculture to suggest to the press that we should think about growing rice to bring down the price of groceries is more than enough reason for cynicism.

The next thing you know, the government will be awarding rice subsidies to cronies and importing thousands of Chinese rice experts.

If you read between the lines of my article you will realise it acknowledges that farming can be successful here at a certain level. Look at the original Hatchet Bay Plantation, for example.

But political hypocrisy, ineptitude and interference only compounds the difficulty and cost of local agriculture.

Finally, the government has an entire information infrastructure at its disposal to get its points across - including a bully pulpit whenever and wherever it wants one.

I find it difficult to get a substantive response even from those politicos and senior officials who I know personally

C.Lowe

I remember my Dad blasting holes in the ground to crack the rock so he could plant fruit trees in our yard, so "pothole" farming is no joke.
I did the same when I moved into our house. The hurricanes(3) devastated a third of our fruit trees, and I have been unable to replace them due to poor stock quality and availability not to mention the time and rainfall needed to rinse the salt out of the soil. Fertilisers should not be applied after hurricanes either, as they are "salts" based as well. If every back yard grew food it would be a start but only for very localized consumption, the way it was back in the day.

larry smith

What can we do to make Bahamians more interested in farming?

I think the effort that was made in the 1970s at BARC was about the most we could ever do - and it ended in complete failure.

If food prices continued to rise maybe some of our small farmers will be able to generate more income and that might encourage m ore production.

Ashok@Internet

Very good article

Lilly Knowles

I think most Bahamians would like to see Senator Obama get fair treatment.

Hillary's detractors - Republicans Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity at Fox News - have succeeded in putting stumbling blocks in the way of Senator Obama.

Also the race card was played in several primaries such as in
W. Virginia and in Kentucky where voters acknowledged this.(Why do
Republicans want Hillary as their opponent in the General Election?)

The second obstacle is Hillary. How can they get through to her when she thinks she deserves to win above anyone else. How can one get her to go, please. Everyone has had to tread lightly in what they say to or about her. I think people would like to hear debate on the real issues instead of having to placate Mrs. Clinton because she is a woman and wife of Bill.

Bob Knaus

One more comment and then I'm done.

Growing up on the family farm in Homestead FL I learned there were two ways you could make a living at farming -- big or small. Medium farmers couldn't make it.

We chose small. We cut our strawberry acreage from 15 to 5, increased the variety and acreage of vegetables we raised, opened up a bakery, and added a milkshake stand. People drove 50 miles from Palm Beach just to buy veggies, drink a strawberry milkshake, and chow down on cinnamon rolls.

There is no way we could have made it as "small" farmers without being in proximity to a 2 million+ metropolis. The key to prosperity through "small" farming is access to a large market that is willing to pay a premium price for freshness, quality, and variety. Does the Bahamas have this?

I knew a number of "big" farmers in Dade County, and continued to service their computer systems until I was in my early 30s. I enumerated the reasons in my earlier comment as to why the Bahamas is unsuited to "big" farming.

And, trust me, "medium" farming is a sure way to go broke!

larry smith

Why is that Bob?

Bob Knaus

Larry, I said that would be my last comment, and you insisted on asking me a question! OK, I will answer :-)

"Small" farming is successful in one of two ways. It can support a retail business, as my family's farm did; or it can sell into a highly specialized wholesale market, for instance fresh herbs or berries. In the latter instance, the Bahamas is at a significant disadvantage versus Latin America due to higher labor cost.

"Big" farming (by which I mean hundreds of acres per farm) is successful when the farmer has efficient access to a large market. In Dade County, the big farmers either have their own brokerage operations, or (more commonly) they work through a co-op brokerage whose job is to know the wholesale market and to get the produce shipped out in as short a time at the best price possible. "Big" farming is an industrial operation. It features entrepreneurs who have a large appetite for risk and the ability to raise significant sums of capital. No need to comment on the Bahamian situation here.

The "medium" farmer is in a bind. He does not have the efficiencies of scale possessed by the "big" farmer, and his output would swamp the market for either a retail operation or a specialized wholesale niche. He either has to grow "big", or find the "small" niche that is highly profitable and makes him happy.

My own prejudices are evident in what I write. I grew up on a farm, and I couldn't wait to leave it. There is nothing glamorous about farming. It's hard work. Sometimes, it pays well. More often, it doesn't.

Hope Bringer

Somewhere out there is a great farmer, possibly a family of farmers with children to feed and who LOVE farming. Like many other farmers they have somehow lost everything due to their local government and a greedy, heartless bank. I would imagine such a group of farmers if given a chance to redo the Hatchet Bay Plantation would do a pretty good job.

I clearly remember my younger days spending summers in Eleuthera. We NEVER had any milk. The only meat was fish. All the eggs came from our personal chicken coop. So of course there was rarely any chicken meat.

utopia products

The info on agriculture was truly enlightening. I have a great passion for the agricultural industry in the Bahamas and would like to see it up and running. I know relatively nothing about growing crops. I would like to start by growing a backyard fruit and vegetable garden. How do I start, and where can I get more information about planting?

sam

I am passionate about manufacturing in Bahamas - period. I have toyed off and on with growing sisal in large enough quantities to actually manufacture it into various items as opposed to just growing and exporting as was done one hundred years ago.

I get that labor is expensive here, I get the gist of why The Bahamas, Turks and Caicos jumped ship onthe industry in the early 1900's. I came upon this article in researching this "whim".

At a first glance it seems like the perfect crop although unedible it is weather, drought and insect resistant, thrives in shallow/poor soil and once harvested properly has a very long shelf life. 2 year turn around time doesnt seem bad either.

2 Questions -

1. it needs lots of fertiliser - was it larry who mentioned the run off into the ocean - that's a reality that would need t obe addressed by whom I dont know

2.Who might be an authority that could tell me What grade of sisal we are capable of producing here orhave produced in this hemisphere

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