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Red Stripe on track with cassava production

Confident of meeting 40 per cent target

BY KARENA BENNETT
Business reporter
bennettk@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Beer manufacturer Red Stripe Jamaica, plans to have 40 per cent volume of the locally grown cassava in the production of its malt, beer and stout beverages by 2020 — but could find itself working overtime to reach the target after experiencing some setbacks on its pilot cassava farm in Bernard Lodge, St Catherine.

“It's one of the most challenging farms to operate. We depend on the National Irrigation Commission for water and there were times when there is no water, the pressure in the system is low, there is a burst main pipe...,” Production Supervisor, Narado Richards told journalists during a tour of the company's cassava farms on Monday.

In addition to water issues, Red Stripe was also faced with poor soil quality and wasted space as a result of the 36-acre property which is being leased from the Sugar Corporation of Jamaica (SCJ), previous use for illegal sand mining activities.

Of the 36 acres, Richards noted that only 24 acres has been identified as arable land with the remaining amount being used as green space. Last year, Bernard Lodge cassava farm produced the highest yield of 28 tonnes per hectare compared to 17 tonnes in previous years, but was nonetheless lagging behind yields from Wallen and SpringPlain cassava farms and the potential of the newest addition, Windsor. The increase in yield, according to Richards, was attributable to work being carried out by the NIC.

Nonetheless, the beer company has been able to achieve 15 per cent cassava in Red Stripe beer since the launch of the Project Grow programme in 2013. Ultimately, Project Grow aims to replace imported high maltose corn syrup in the production of the beer. The programme also seeks to encourage the development of the agriculture sector, giving farmers the opportunity to earn.

But the issues of Bernard Lodge, which became operational in 2014, have now forced Red Stripe to go back to the drawing board to determine whether it wants to keep cultivating the farm for production, or to use it as a testing ground for successful practices to be adopted on the other farms.

The company has since reassigned some of the Bernard Lodge staff to the Windsor farm.

“Possibly, we are going to use Bernard Lodge to test inter-cropping, inter-row, other crops. Crop rotation is also big on the agenda for this farm come next year, because we have repeatedly produced on the same plot of land so we need to rest it,” Richards told the Jamaica Observer.

“Because of the size we can set up a quarter acre trial plot here where the plots are designed in such a way where we have smaller plots within a plot. As opposed to Windsor, the smallest plot is eight acres so we can't really do a trial on a plot that large,” he continued.

Red Stripe has also partnered with the input suppliers, St Jago Farm Supplies, to carry out trials on Bernard Lodge ranging from biostimulants, fungicide application, weed and pest management.

In January, Red Stripe began cultivating at the Windsor, St Catherine farm which currently employs 26 people. The farm, which is under a 25-year lease agreement with the SCJ, covers 600 acres of which 62 acres are being cultivated. But Red Stripe wants to increase cultivated acreage to 300 by August.

“So there is a plan to move us to the 40 per cent. To continuously increase production, not only are we cultivating but we have farmers and we also have another element of Project Grow which is the out grower, meaning third-party farmers whom we have engaged.

“I believe we are up to 128 who have among them about 1,300 acres of land available but cultivating 560 acres and the plan is to increase that strategically. So it may seem like we are far away from the 40 per cent but rest assured we are still on track,” Stacy-Ann Williams-Smith, brand and corporate public relations manager told the Business Observer.

She added that Red Stripe is also moving to expand its cassava starch processing plant, moving production from the current 20,000 tonnes per day to 100,000 tonnes.

“The whole point of that is to increase the capacity to get to that target, so there are several things that are happening at the same time,” Williams-Smith said.