Feb.27, 2006 – Is agriculture a viable industry for the Virgin Islands? Should the industry concentrate on feeding Virgin Islands consumers or should exporting be the goal? These are some of the questions addressed on the opening day of a four-day Agriculture Summit presented by the V.I. Legislature.
Dairy, crop and cattle farmers, officials from the Agriculture Department and the University of the Virgin Islands Extension Service came together Monday at the Rotary West headquarters behind the Paul E. Joseph Stadium in Frederiksted to discuss the viability of the farming industry in the Virgin Islands.
Agriculture Commissioner Lawrence Lewis was skeptical about the outcome of the summit. He said the Virgin Islands government needs to commit adequate funding for agriculture. Lewis said the system is not geared to creating farmers, noting that only three schools on St. Croix have agriculture programs.
Local cattle farmer and businessman Hans Lawaetz painted a dire picture of the future for local beef and dairy producers. He said development has crowded out the local farming market. Lawaetz, whose family owns Annaly Farms, said supermarkets have made local meat markets obsolete. The local meat markets bought local produce while supermarkets import their meat and dairy, Lawaetz said.
Lawaetz predicted that in two years St. Croix beef and dairy farmers would go out of business.
Stafford Crossman, Agriculture assistant commissioner, said although 90 percent of the food in the territory is imported, the territory needs to take steps toward self-sufficiency. The challenge to this he said, was that the cost of farm labor and the lack of mechanized farming methods puts the Virgin Islands at a serious disadvantage on the global market.
Percival Edwards, Farmers in Action president, pointed to a lack of comprehensive government policies as the reason the agriculture industry has not progressed. He said although policies have been put in place over the years, loopholes have kept the policies from realizing their potential.
Edwards said citrus growing could become a lucrative industry. Citrus could be grown on small plots of land along with vegetables. What is lacking is a processing plant, Edwards said.
But is was not all bad news for farming. James Rakoy, a UVI Cooperative Extension Service employee, shined a ray of hope for the local farming industry. He said aquaculture has potential for growth. He said UVI is cultivating shrimp and fish and can produce enough for local demand. Rakoy said restaurants and local residents prefer the fresh fish, but supermarkets still prefer to buy frozen fish from Miami.
The summit continues on Tuesday and ends on Thursday. The general public is invited to attend and the hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Here is the schedule for the remainder of the summit.
Marketing our local products and meats: A discussion on the marketing efforts of the local agriculture industry
Solutions for water shortages: A discussion on replenishing the aquifers and constructing new wells
Creating the next generation of farmers: A discussion on agricultural education and youth outreach
Collaboration and cooperation in the St. Croix farming community: A discussion on private sector organizations who represent the agricultural industry
Where is the cattle industry heading? A discussion of the future of St. Croix's Cattle industry
A new policy for a new era: A plan of action for upgrading the policy guidelines for the development of Virgin Islands agriculture.
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