Tibbetts excited to back at helm of agriculture

| 04/10/2013

(CNS): The former leader of government business and the now minister of planning and agriculture has said the he was excited to be working on agriculture again as he said when he left officer as the minister responsible for the area at the end of 2009 there were still things he had wanted to do. “Some things were still undone when I left last, and I hope to accomplish as much as possible, within budgetary constraints,” he said recently, when Tibbetts who is also a keen grower himself met with staff in the department of agriculture recently. “I will endeavour to do the best I can, to see how far we can go with agriculture. Sometimes you may be called upon to do more with less, but it will get better… I know that you are up to the task,” he told his department staff.

He also encouraged them to keep up their good work on the annual Agriculture Show which, he said, “improves with each event”.

Speaking of plans to further develop the sector, Tibbetts also told staff that, as a priority, he will be finalizing arrangements for Cayman Islands’ membership in the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI) – an initiative he launched during his previous term. 

With a lot going on in the department, Tibbetts also visit the department’s lab where he heard that the Cayman Islands is one of the countries in the region which comprise the Caribbean Pest Diagnostic Network. 

“This is significant as it allow us direct access to experts in the United States and worldwide – especially for the rapid identification of pests,” said Director of Agriculture Adrian Estwick. 

Specialized equipment is used to capture microscopic digital images of pests and transmit these to a network of experts — thereby eliminating the need to send physical specimens, while significantly reducing identification time.

“This is essential for effective control and management,” said Scientific Assistant Shariffa Chantilope-Zelaya, who is currently training on the system. “It’s important to regional trade in produce and products, and also serves to protect Cayman’s delicate environment and agriculture from destructive pests.”

Meanwhile officials said that the Plant Protection and Agricultural Health Inspection Services has recently been recognized by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) with the award of the ‘Greater Caribbean Safeguarding Initiative, Regional Plant Health Safeguarding Award’ for consistent leadership in the region.

“This is a significant milestone, for ours is the first regional department to receive this prestigious award,” added Estwick.

The department’s canine detector dog, Myah, has also contributed much to the prevention of pests. Myah and her handler Sharon Davis manage a rigorous schedule of inspecting luggage and imported goods at ports of entry.

The dog’s natural abilities have been honed by focused training, to the extent that she can detect a broad range of agricultural and food products. With a 95-percent success rate in detecting imported produce at the airport, she can sniff-out these scents — even in sealed containers.

On the livestock side, the department continues to collaborate with the faculty and students of St Matthew’s University School of Veterinary Medicine. Especially beneficial are the specialist lecturers who assist the department’s vets when needed. These visitors also allow departmental staff to engage in continuing education, thereby staying current. Another important function is stray-animal control. Pet overpopulation and unwanted, roaming and nuisance cats and dogs continue to be a serious concern.

When animals are picked-up, owners who can be identified are contacted. They must pay a minimum fee to reclaim their animals. Unclaimed animals are kept for about a week before they are euthanized. Around 55 animals each month are killed because owners do not reclaim their animals either because they do not know they have been taken or because they animals have been abandoned. Residents are encouraged to help to control this problem by having their pets spayed and neutered, and to have them micro chipped, wear collars, and control their movements.

In the area of local fruit and vegetable production, the department’s fields continuously grow a range of crops. These are propagated experimentally to determine which plants and techniques work best, and to provide planting material to farmers, and the public.
These crops include sweet potatoes, bananas, coconut, mango and a variety of other fruit trees that are used to provide grafts.

“These established plantings are ‘germplasam’ banks”, said Estwick. “New international varieties are tested in the local environment, and the best ones are propagated and distributed for planting.”

The officers reported that, while interest in local agriculture was once limited, many people are now getting into production, and the market for local produce and meats is also expanding.

Interest in animal-rearing has also ballooned in recent years, and Estwick boasted of the “good genetics” now in place Cayman, especially for goats and cattle.

The demand for local beef also continues to increase. With these positive developments comes the need to grow more local forage. These grasses help maintain and improve the nutritional health of animals, and reduce the dependence on expensive imported feeds. 

As part of its outreach efforts, the department has begun quarterly meetings with representatives of the various sub-sectors, including crop farmers and those raising goats, poultry, pigs and cattle. This allows everyone to explore opportunities, and to find or share solutions to common challenges.

Responding to the growing interest in poultry production that has “mushroomed” in the last few years, the department recently held a poultry-production seminar for the benefit of new and existing farmers. 

At the adjacent abattoir the visitors heard confirmation that the once-debated service has been well-received by local farmers, with some 2,500 pounds of meat being processed each week. However, after six years in operation the abattoir requires upgrades, and some components must be replaced. 

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