Recently, several commercial farmers publicly announced their concerns that Bermuda would not be getting seed potatoes or strawberry seedlings for growing next year’s crop.
I am happy to remove these fears and share with the people of Bermuda that after meeting all the phytosanitary requirements needed to ensure the ongoing good health of the island’s environment, both the seed potato and strawberry shipments have arrived on the island.
I am also pleased to provide an update on the significant efforts to assist our local farmers in creating a vibrant local agriculture sector, which will strengthen the island’s food security. The challenge is to make nutritious food more affordable, available and reliable. This need was never made more apparent and profound than through the recent global events we continue to experience.
The pandemic and war in Ukraine have shown us that small island communities, like Bermuda, can be significantly impacted by external supply chain issues resulting in higher costs and an overall reduction in the quality, quantity and availability of essential food products. Coupled with ongoing problems experienced by local agriculture, these challenges have put significant pressure on our food producers. These issues include the loss of growing areas with land now being used for more lucrative developments, reduced interest in traditional farming and an ageing sector. Additionally, our local agriculture must contend with the high production costs versus cheaper imports, a product of the vast global food industry.
Incredibly, we farmed thousands of acres of land in Bermuda only a century ago. We produced enough to export in those times, such as our world-famous Bermuda onion and Easter lilies. Currently, only around 750 acres are zoned agricultural, and we only farm a fraction of that, estimated to be about 350 acres. Bermuda, over the years, has embraced real estate development, tourism and other commercial activity, which has depleted a considerable amount of farmland. While our development has undoubtedly contributed to substantial progress and economic opportunity, raised the country’s standard of living, and increased our population to the benefit of many Bermudians, the price of our success comes at the loss of our local food production.
The government has traditionally provided significant assistance to the local sector through the economic embargo system for local produce, the services provided at the Agriculture Services Centre as well as the fact that any good imported in association with local food production is duty free, including materials, seed, and equipment.
However the government recognizes it can do more to offset the local and international pressures impacting our local farmers, which is why the Ministry of Home Affairs, in partnership with the Ministry of Economy and Labour, is currently developing an integrated agriculture strategy. The goal is to revitalise, strengthen and secure Bermuda’s Agriculture Sector against natural and artificial events detrimental to our well-being by increasing our capacity to grow and produce high-quality, nutritious food, details of which will be shared with the public in the New Year.
More recently, local farmers have highlighted the theft of produce as a severe problem. The government takes a zero-tolerance approach to this problem, termed ‘night farming’, as it seriously cuts into the earnings of local farmers. It also increases the price of produce to the honest consumer. The Department is currently piloting mobile camera technology at different sites and will provide this to farmers who need it.
The persistent problem of invasive animals like rats, chickens, and other pest species wreaks costly havoc on crops in Bermuda. We will continue to work with farmers to use humane and environmentally safe methods to deal with this ongoing issue.
The Plant Protection Lab team will continue their ongoing work to ensure all plant, food and biological imports bring no risk to Bermuda’s delicate biodiversity.
The Department will also continue working with farmers to properly source affordable seed and plant materials that provide a good yield and assists them with lowering food production costs.
The Ministry has resumed its work with the Ministry of Public Works to redevelop the Agriculture Service and Marketing Centre in Prospect. This facility is crucial for the continued development of local agriculture. If farmers are going to produce more, there is a critical need to store the “fruits” of their labour, especially for those crops that store well. Also, subject to budgetary approvals, a replacement Agriculture Service Centre and critical equipment and infrastructure will be developed to support increased local production, particularly the storage of locally produced food.
At this time, both the Crop Strategy 2016-2021 and the draft Dairy Strategy 2013 are under review to better reflect the current needs since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Issues such as in-field disease identification and prevention, soil health and management, and seed selection have been discussed with the Bermuda Farmer’s Association. The government will provide assistance to address these issues. The result will be increased production and more food for the table.
Similarly, a key initiative is to assess opportunities that produce more of what we already import and increase the production of crops currently grown by local farmers.
As previously stated, land, a critical component, is at a premium. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources will complete the GIS-based Arable Audit to identify opportunities for new production fields. We anticipate having the resources to support this critical work in the first quarter of 2023.
The Ministry will also propose amendments to the Agriculture Act 1930 to correctly identify commercial farmers who sell goods along Bermuda’s roadsides and strengthen penalties for those who participate in “night farming”.
Lastly, we will work with the Bermuda Economic Development Corporation (BEDC) to explore and provide more opportunities for local manufacturing from the island’s food producers.
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