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Farmers warn of local potato shortages

Gold dust: home-grown potatoes will be in short supply this year (Photograph provided)

This year’s local potato crop will be cut in half following the late arrival of seedlings, it has been claimed.

The Bermuda Farmers Association said that a “flawed” permit process and government red tape resulted in seeds not arriving on the island until December.

As a result, many farmers ditched plans to plant the vegetable, saying it was too late in the year for the crop to flourish.

The BFA added that this year’s strawberry harvest will be delayed because of late planting.

Announcing the arrival of the seeds last December, Walter Roban, the Minister of Home Affairs, dismissed fears that seeds would not be available were unfounded.

At a press conference, he said: “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.”

Yesterday the BFA rejected the reassurances.

A spokesman said: “Contrary to the Minister’s statement that ‘all was well with the potato growing’ this calendar year, sadly the harvest forecast will be halved because seed potatoes were allowed in only at the eleventh hour at the end of last year.

“The strawberry runner imports were also late in arrival which delays the crops to the public likely this spring.

“This is due to a flawed permitting process and not due to lack of arable land.

“The largest growers have not planted potatoes due to the lateness and uncertainty of supply, which preclude them from committing ground to this crop.

“This was avoidable and points the finger at the process the Department of Environment and Natural Resources has in place to administer the importation of seeds and live agricultural material.

“The onus has been put on the farmers to get all the increasing challenging requirements done to the satisfaction of the DENR.”

The spokesman said the logistics of importing plant materials were “complicated” and time-consuming – and that just one farmer managed to meet the application deadline last year.

The spokesman said: “The role of the DENR should be to spearhead this process well in advance, rather than act in what seems an adversarial way with farmers to achieve the objective of allowing seeds into the island.

“The potato crop should never be compromised as it is a staple food that can be stored for six months or more as a food reserve.

“The Agricultural Service Centre has large chill rooms built for this purpose which will be only partially filled this year. This hasn’t happened in living memory! Additional imports will be required to fill the island’s needs earlier than usual in the fall.”

The spokesman said that Government red tape was not in the public interest and made a mockery of Mr Roban’s claim that his ministry was “working with farmers to properly source affordable seed and plant material”.

He added: “Farmers are well able to source products themselves, but they find an unwillingness by the DENR to really help the import process, or indeed have a keen interest in the production outcomes of local farms.

“The DENR, in the minds of the farmers at large is that they are keen at protection at the expense of production.

“Farmers want an end to the red tape that exists within the DENR to process goods inward, and a change of heart to take place to promote farming.”

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Published February 27, 2023 at 8:07 am (Updated February 27, 2023 at 8:17 am)

Farmers warn of local potato shortages

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