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I’m a chemical guy too

September 20, 2011

Dear Sir,

I was recently interviewed by Mathew Taylor for the fourth edition of “Going Green” 2011. As always, Mathew writes an excellent article and is always focused on the chosen topic. I have absolutely no reservations as to his ability to write an accurate and informative article.

Most people know me as a person who is totally passionate about agriculture, and in particular organic agriculture in Bermuda.

Throughout the article I referred to my peers (who all run excellent operations) as “the Chemical Guys” which was on reflection an inappropriate and unjustified choice of words on my part. The handful of local farmers who consistently work land in Bermuda are an industrious, highly talented and skilled group for whom we as a country should be very thankful. For me to refer to them as the “Chemical Guys” really gives the wrong impression for which I absolutely apologise. This was a poorly selected term that has little bearing on our industry.

I have been in this industry for some 35 years now. Ever since Hurricane Fabian I have tried to convert to a more “organic” approach to my operation. While I continue to try, my operation is not without its flaws and leaves much room for improvement. We use “pastured poultry” as a means of improving our soils. The process involves moving our broiler birds in portable pens to uniformly “manure” fields as well as to produce fresh chicken. The effects on the land continues to be very positive and the quality of the product is excellent. While this technique is excellent, it is impossible to completely cover every field, there are just too many.

For this method to work you need good pasture. We regularly struggle with fertility as we attempt to grow these pastures. We do use chemical fertiliser to get these pastures to grow. This is NOT organic. We have been forced to use chemical herbicides (weed killers) to stay ahead of some weeds. Additionally we, like the rest of Bermuda, have been completely overrun with snails for several seasons now, and have not been successful in controlling these using an “organic” approach. Again we used a chemically based poison bait to try and alleviate this serious situation. While every care is taken using this bait, it is still not an organic solution to the problem. I might add that we still hand pick snails on a regular basis. Another issue that we have is the availability of decent varieties of seed that are not treated with some form of chemical coating. They are now very difficult to obtain. We also have extreme difficulty in controlling the numerous weeds in the fence lines, thus compromising their ability to be effective. We have tried various organic weed killers with limited success. We have even tried fire with more encouraging results. Regrettably we have had to use chemical treatments for this purpose in the form of Roundup. So, in the big picture, as my peers and fellow farmers have pointed out to me, like them I am actually a “Chemical Guy”. Again, my humble apologies to my fellow farmers.

As a small country we are fortunate to have such hard-working and skilled people performing the often, thankless job of farming in our community. The entire group is constantly striving to produce food of the highest quality for local consumers. They are willing and able to produce the food despite the almost impossible obstacles that we are regularly confronted with. Bermuda is one of the few places in the world that farms in decreasing daylight and well into the winter. This, combined with the adverse weather and brutal droughts that we have experienced over the past two years would, I think, totally frustrate most business people. As farmers, we simply press on, do the work and produce a lot of excellent food of exceptional quality.

As a small island there are numerous safeguards in place, which simply do not allow any local farmers to use high risk, or highly toxic chemicals. Quite simply these are against importation regulations. The even better news is that many of the “chemicals” used by local farmers are often biologicals that are approved by OMRI, The Organic Materials Review Institute. These chemicals are available to farmers as a direct result of a very diligent planning by The Department of Conservation Services. Most of the “chemicals” that are available are actually superior in their ability to protect crops versus the many older chemicals that were known to cause harm to both the consumers and the environment. OMRI approves products that replaced most of the highly toxic chemicals of old.

A few examples are Pyganic, Dipel, Elemental Sulphur, Serenad and Aza Direct. These are just a few of the good “chemicals” that we use in Bermuda agriculture. In the huge picture these are very safe “chemicals” and are what the “Chemical Guys” and I use successfully in producing locally grown nutritious foods.

As I very offensively called some of my best friends and peers “Chemical Guys” I would like to take this opportunity to inform you of some of their stunning achievements of late. At this point in time there are some 50 tons of carrots in storage. Several farmers regularly propagate and graft many citrus and soft fruit trees. Among the foods that are grown here are world-class sweet potatoes, sweet corn and a significant amount of potatoes (at least 15 different varieties) that feed Bermuda for up to four or more months each year. We are very capable of producing enough of the cole crops, kales, collards, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower. We often have enough supply for six months a year. There are probably 20 varieties of lettuce that can feed Bermuda for long periods. These food supplies are invariably fresher than imported products. The list is endless. Bananas, strawberries, pumpkins, squashes, and practically any green vegetable that exists.

We are really lucky to have such a dedicated group of talented farmers. With no reservations, I absolutely apologise to those that I referred to as “Chemical Guys”. As stated weekly in the Dept. of Conservation Services/Government Marketing Center Bulletin “The organic status of local produce has not been evaluated by any agency of the Bermuda Government.” There is currently no authority in Bermuda that can certify that produce grown here is organic. So, it is without reservation that I absolutely apologise to my fellow Farmers for my comments as mentioned in the latest edition of “Going Green”. So like your good selves I am a “Chemical Guy” too.

TOM WADSON

Southampton

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Published November 02, 2011 at 2:00 am (Updated November 02, 2011 at 9:47 am)

I’m a chemical guy too

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