‘Commercial’ onions harvested in T&T

(Trinidad Express) The first-ever commercially viable onion crop in Trinidad and Tobago was harvested yesterday at the Tucker Valley Farm, Chaguaramas, in a pilot project run by the Ministry of Food Production and local company Caribbean Chemicals Ltd.

Approximately 30,000 plants in three varieties were seeded in November, transplanted in December, and were ripe for picking 90 days later.

“We didn’t tell the media about this project four months ago. We wanted to do it and make sure it could work and then bring you all here to show the fruits of our labour,” said Food Production Minister Vasant Bharath.

“Onion is one of four crops we want to focus on as a staple in the local diet—along with carrots, potatoes and peanuts—and from an importation point of view, they account for over TT$500 million (spent on food) in last five years. This project will help reduce the food import bill and save foreign exchange,” said Joe Pires, managing director of Caribbean Chemicals.

Pires said this was the first time onions were grown locally on a commercial scale, despite research being conducted in the 1960s and 1970s on the viability of the crop—even though other Caribbean islands had previously used the same research to implement their own sustainable onion production.

He said restaurants were already on board to purchase the entire crop because the flavour of a fresh onion, as opposed to one in storage for two months before shipping, is far superior.

He added that a 100-acre farm could provide 20 per cent of the local supply of onions, and his company had tendered their request to the Ministry to acquire land to run a commercial onion operation at Chaguaramas.

Over the last five years, Trinidad and Tobago has imported TT$100 million worth of onions.

Chaguaramas is one of three locations (along with Cora and Icacos) in Trinidad with the ideal sandy loam soil type to grow onions.

Bharath said the only thing that prevented onion farming in the past was the lack of will, and he looks forward to seeing onions and other nontraditional crops, like carrots, being developed.

An experimental farm for commercially viable carrots was supposed to be run simultaneously with the onion farm, but disease and irrigation problems caused the crop to fail.

A second attempt is underway.

Bharath added that this was part of the Ministry’s mission to increase food security and ensure a steady flow of food to local markets.

Also on the Ministry’s agenda is rehabilitating and resuscitating the citrus industry, with an estimated 150,000 citrus plants set to be sown this year, said Bharath.

He added that 3,000 acres specifically designated for rice farming will also be made available later this year.

The Ministry’s Seed Production Facility has also been relocated to the Tucker Valley Farm and is expected to provide seedlings for staple crops like corn, pigeon peas, bodi, ochro, eggplant and sorrel to be made available to the local farming community.

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