Tue | Mar 2, 2021

Grinch-like rains threaten Christmas price hikes

Published:Tuesday | November 10, 2020 | 12:12 AMJonielle Daley/Gleaner Writer
Ivena McCatty has lamented the flagging sales of scallion, which is increasingly prone to spoilage as a result of waterlogged fields.
Ivena McCatty has lamented the flagging sales of scallion, which is increasingly prone to spoilage as a result of waterlogged fields.
Tracy-Ann Thompson is wary of a hike in produce price for Christmas.
Tracy-Ann Thompson is wary of a hike in produce price for Christmas.

Weeks of bad weather have left farmers like Tracey-Ann Thompson wondering whether hopes of a merry Christmas have been washed away by the October rains.

Thompson moved from Kingston to Manchester just three years ago to cultivate her ambition of farming her own produce. She only needed to transport produce to Coronation Market on Wednesday mornings to sell to vendors and return home.

But sales have slowed dramatically since tropical storms Zeta and Eta scoured Jamaica, triggering flooding and landslides.

“I usually go home Wednesday night, but mi haffi stay till Saturday and sell them miself ... . The rain brings a lot of setback,” Thompson told The Gleaner.

“We don’t think nothing going to sell off even tomorrow.”

She lamented having lost approximately $350,000 from three acres of melons, as well as $150,000 in sweet peppers. Other crops lay destroyed in waterlogged fields.

Sentiments like those will be on the mind of Agriculture Minister Floyd Green when he addresses Parliament today on the scale of devastation that has hit local farms. The preliminary estimate of $2.4 billion is likely to climb.

Householders and restaurateurs are already feeling the pinch from the effects of the torrential rainfall, with watermelon rising by $20, or 40 per cent, to $70 per pound wholesale.

Scarcity looms

Kemar Beckford, a fruit vendor of Waterhouse, western St Andrew, travels to Flagaman in St Elizabeth twice per week to purchase goods. He said that produce such as watermelons, peppers, and tomatoes were growing increasingly scarce – victim to the onslaught of rain.

Farmers who have been supplying him with watermelons for around 15 years were unable to meet his delivery schedule, forcing him to purchase from less reliable middlemen.

“The other day mi buy some inna Clarendon, about 6,000 pounds, and fi tell you the truth, mi lose over two thousand pounds“ to spoilage, Beckford told The Gleaner, adding that he has had to purchase smaller quantities than usual to limit his losses.

Like Beckford, Carmen Gilzine is giving away scallion she purchased from her regular supplier, Ivena McCatty, who is counting mounting losses from rotting crops.

McCatty, a vendor from Plowden, Manchester, was in Coronation Market for three days straight, up to last Friday, trying her luck with scallions that were ‘bleeding water’. The 74-year-old had made only $15,000 of the $75,000 she was projecting from scallion sales of $120 per pound, double the farm-gate price of $60 per pound before the sustained rainfall.

Manchester, St Catherine, Westmoreland, St Thomas, and St Andrew are among other parishes hard hit.

Fewer buyers

Though prices are dictated by market demands, and vendors have reported fewer buyers, Peter Thompson, chief executive officer of the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA), said shoppers should expect a hike in the prices of leafy vegetables, tomatoes, and cucumbers for Christmas.

Vendors are predicting a shortage of lettuce, pak choi, and sweet peppers, with the price tag of hot peppers set to increase to $600 to $700 per pound compared to between $350 and $450 currently on the market. Before the rains, shoppers were spending as low as $120 per pound.

Christmas staples such sorrel and gungo peas are also expected to be scarcer than usual in the coming weeks with swathes of farmlands under water.

Farmers from Manchester complained of low temperatures causing gungo blossoms to fall from the trees, and heavy rains have left sorrel saturated and prone to rotting.

Janet Edwards, a consumer who usually hosts a minimum of 20 persons for Christmas festivities, said that she cannot splash that much cash this year.