Consulting with farmers would have been the right thing to do
I have been a bona fide farmer in Bermuda for over 35 years. I work some 40 acres of land. I plant seed. I grow food.
Several weeks ago I was informed by a local courier company that seed that I ordered and had shipped through them had been intercepted by HM Customs. Apparently HM Customs were informed by the powers that be at the Department of Environmental Protection that all seed now had to be inspected by the plant protection team.
Several days ensued and the seed had not been delivered back to the courier. I called the senior plant protection officer to check the status of my shipment. I was told that was to be released fairly soon and by the way it was treated with systemic fungicides. Fair enough. It just seemed to be taking forever. Never before in my career had such an inspection been requested. I was told that this was a new policy.
I must say that I was a bit surprised with this supposed new policy as it had never even been mentioned, far less discussed at any time either with the farmers or The Board of Agriculture. I was even further surprised to hear that this new so called policy had not been signed off by the Director of Environmental Protection.
Much has been said in regard to treated seed in our press release of today. It is self explanatory. It is next to impossible to find decent varieties that are not treated in some way. Some of these treatments may be as simple as putting the seed in hot water for a specified time. Many are more complex. Many are naturally derived and do not use chemical pesticides at all. They are all referred to as treated seed. Organic seeds, too, may be treated with approved organic pesticides. If they kill anything, be they organic or not, they are still pesticides. A policy on GM seed and products should be welcomed by all in Bermuda.
A meeting was indeed held between the executive of the Bermuda Farmers Association, the Minister of the Environment, his Permanent Secretary and the Director of Environmental Protection. The farmers indeed requested the meeting to discuss the supposed new policy on seed importation and other issues. The fact that the Bermuda Farmers Association requested such a meeting was surely an indication that all was not well.
There had been casual discussion about not attending the Agricultural Exhibition among ourselves for some time. It was agreed that the letter to HM Customs regarding this unauthorised policy would be rescinded. More seed shipments were intercepted and delayed. It appeared to me that the letter had in fact not been rescinded at all. The senior plant protection officer and the Director of Environmental Protection were now on leave.
Further investigation revealed no farmer had received any letter. At this point the letter clearly had not been written. This was a week later. More time passed. The membership was clearly upset. The situation was not improving. Another week was passing.
I pay for a Segment of Air Time every Friday on FM89.1 at 9.45am with fellow farmer, host David Lopes. We discuss what we have for sale at Wadsons Home Farm Market, what is out in the fields and pastures and the general state of farming in Bermuda at the time. I mentioned the unresolved issues of the meeting and announced that the Bermuda Farmers Association intention to not attend the Agricultural Exhibition. A decision that, certainly in my case, came with a very heavy heart.
I, for one, am tired of dealing with expensive incompetence. Various media ran the story and the situation became headline news. This could have been easily avoided if responsible parties did what they said they would. What a huge waste of time that could have been used for productive farming and effective administration.
In the meantime the Government issued a statement. For the record, I was not purportedly speaking for the Bermuda Farmers Association. I was speaking for our membership who had clearly been let down again. The fact remained that the unauthorised letter to HM Customs had not been rescinded.
The point was raised by Government that I had failed to mention that seeds were being imported that could be harmful to agriculture in Bermuda. The same seed that is used by farmers anywhere. This comment boggles the mind when one watches the yellow left hand drive W&E trucks with pesticide spraying the roadsides with the systemic herbicide (weed killer) Roundup or the generic equivalent on a daily basis. This can only be washed to the lower lying agricultural and sensitive marshlands or even the bays of Bermuda. One only has to check scientists such as Prof Don Huber of Purdue University on this chemical and little more needs to be said.
I have no idea how many gallons or barrels of this are sprayed on our roadsides every year. I would imagine the amount of seed treatment used in this Island in a year is eclipsed by the first hour of Roundup spraying on any given day. All I know is that the research has been done to eliminate the use of any chemical roadside mowing in Bermuda. I did it. I digress. Back to the issues at hand.
I was delighted to finally see a letter sent by the acting Director of Environmental Protection with regard to the importation of commercial vegetable seed which was dated Monday, April 15, 2013, some 19 days after the meeting. Would this have occurred if nothing was said?
Who was telling the truth? Planning and consulting with stakeholders would seem the right thing to do. We struggle with planning every time the goalposts are moved. They are regularly moved at a whim with little valid proof of necessity. Surely the Civil Service should have to produce in a timely manner.
Maybe if they were paid by the box sold they would. Production is everything in the real world. People eat three times a day. I wish that environmental protection can actually be practised fairly by the Department of Environmental Protection. That can only lead to a better Bermuda.
For the record I have seen many Farming Strategies of various magnitudes as one of the longer serving members serving on the Board of Agriculture. I fail to understand how it takes the best part of a year-and-a-half to complete. There is less than 500 acres under production with a relatively small number of farmers working it.
The Bermuda Farmers Association will be putting together a display at the Exhibition. We will not be boycotting it. Please stop by and pay us a visit. There will not be any special event at Wadsons Farm this weekend. It is usually pretty special up here everyday. As a result of the incredible response we have received to this idea we will organise something in the near future. We would like to include globally recognised experts if there is an interest. We will keep you posted.
Please visit all our Bermudian farms and our markets (during daylight please). Ask for local produce at your supermarket. Please think about Bermudas agricultural future ... It is more than a three-day event. I would like to thank all who have provided such amazing support to both myself and the farming community in general. These kind expressions can only help us all to grow. I absolutely thank the great people who did not have to, but did step in to sort this ridiculous mess out. Happy eating Bermuda.