As the BAM project continues to train farmers in more modern and productive practices, several groups of farmers were this week given new insight into the unusual make up of the Vincentian soil type, and shown how, with proper testing and focused treatment, the output from their farms can be increased significantly.
Dr. Terrence Fullerton, a Caribbean soil scientist who runs an international soil testing lab in Florida has been holding a series of training and sensitization sessions with local farmers this week to discuss his research and why it shows farms may not be producing at their highest capacity. Fullerton’s visit is part of the BAM project, financed by the European Union to modernize and develop agriculture in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
“St. Vincent and the Grenadines as a soil type is totally different from the rest of the (Eastern Caribbean) islands, with the exception of Montserrat. Totally different problems needing totally different solutions, Fullerton said of his findings which also match those an earlier study done here in the 1950’s by the Trinidad-based Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture. “So the technique of using one fertilizer through all the islands would not be bad in some of the other islands, but it was definitely not suitable for St. Vincent,” he added.
“St. Vincent has some volcanic ash soil which is different from the soils formed from volcanic lava. And the chemistry is just the opposite of the other soils. So problems that occur here don’t occur elsewhere,” he said.
“For example, here you have a lack of a nutrient called manganese. St. Lucia which is your next door neighbour has so much that it’s toxic. They have to try to reduce the amount – you have to try to increase the amount.”
“So the approach to fertilization in St. Vincent has to be different to St. Lucia and so far St. Vincent has not been using a St. Vincent focused approach but rather a Windward Islands approach which is not working here.”
As an example, Fullerton, who worked during the 1990’s with the Windward Islands Banana company WINBAN said Vincentian banana farmers then “were the best in terms of how they maintained their fields but they got the lowest production because of this (different soil type) problem.”
In seeking a solution Fullerton advised that farmers must think broader than just soil fertility, and need to conduct soil tests to determine which nutrients are required to meet each specific plant needs. He said in addition to the traditional NPK fertilisers now being used, other requirements, needed in varying amounts for different plant types include, manganese, zinc, baron and magnesium. He outlined various options for adding them including granular on soil application, adding to irrigation systems, or spraying.
After the sessions several farmers expressed new commitment to soil testing and focused fertilizer use.
“I’ve been fertilizing for years but never knew that fertilizer application goes a far way, more than just fertilizing,” said Arthur Samuel a banana and mixed crop farmer from Marriaqua. “Today I learned about soil testing and most of all I learned that to be a productive farmer you must have your soil tested to know exactly what kind of fertilizer to put on,” he added.
Letisha Samuel, a banana and root crop farmer of Vermont added, “To me we need to learn more about these things because we just farming and doing it in our own way. Sometimes the soil needs different nutrients and we don’t know. The whole world is going different now, everybody looking to different ways of farming and we have to fit ourselves in because it is for our survival.”
Benjamin Ackie of Vermont who specializes in bananas said, “I heard a lot I didn’t know about. I really want to see how the soil testing working because, performing in bananas, if you don’t do the right thing you ain’t making nothing out of it.”