News, Regional News

Ash worries for livestock, crops

Published 13 April, 2021


Buckie Got It, St. Kitts and Nevis News Source

Article by Anesta Henry

Livestock and crop farmers reported Monday the early impact of the La Soufriere volcanic eruption’s fallout, hoping that the long-term effects will not be significant.

Farmers in the north of the island were more seriously affected by heavy ashfall over three days. Anselm Greene, a farmer on the Spring Hall Land Lease project said the ashfall has been catastrophic to his crops, fearing the long-term effect on crops as plants cannot produce when stifled by dust.

“They need to be free of that dust for photosynthesis to take place for the plants to be able to make food to be able to produce the fruits in any meaningful way,” he said.

Greene said his pumpkin, okra, squash, cucumbers, and watermelon crops have been affected. But he said he has faced challenges with his crops in the past and noted that he will seek to do whatever is necessary to recover from the impact of the ashfall.

Veteran dairy farmer Annette Beckett said throughout the day she has had to wash the exterior of costly machinery in the milking room to avoid dust from contaminating the milk or damaging the critical equipment.

Beckett, who has been involved in the dairy business for 15 years said because of the tremendous downpour of ash, it has been difficult for the cows to graze effectively.

But she noted that as a result of the early morning rainfall on Monday, some of the ash was washed off the grass, allowing the cows to graze for a limited time.

She said: “We have to see what happens tomorrow morning because the falling of the ash is so fine that you don’t see it. Although you are not supposed to go out in it, we have to, We have to make sure that the cows don’t get any ash in their stomachs from grazing.

“Instinctively, the cows would not eat the grass that has on the ash, but cows must have grass for roughage. You can’t just give them feed, because they must have fibre.”

Chief Executive Officer of the Barbados Agricultural Society (BAS) James Paul told Barbados TODAY that while he was yet to receive complaints about the impact the ash was having on farmers, he was concerned that while they have been advised not to put their animals out to graze, some of them may not have access to hay.

He said that owing to the uncertainties of the ash fall as the La Soufriere volcano continues to erupt, he was currently in the process of checking in with the management of large farms to see if they would be able to assist their smaller counterparts with hay if the need arises.

Paul said: “The animals that would normally be grazing cannot graze at the moment. We are trying to identify persons who have round bales of hay so that farmers who need can have access to them.

“I know that because of the fact that you can’t graze animals right now it means then that they do have to resort to hay at some point. We are trying to ensure that there is adequate supply here for them so that the health of the animals would not be compromised. I believe we have enough hay here. It is just to identify which farmers have hay stored so we can put them in touch with those who need.”

Last Friday, following the volcano’s eruption around 8:41 a.m., Senior Veterinary Officer in the Ministry of Agriculture, Mark Trotman, warned that volcanic ash was potentially toxic to pets and livestock and urged farmers to make sure that their animals are covered.

Trotman also said that feed, forage and water supplies should be carefully stored.

He said farmers also need to pay extra attention when they are harvesting crops to make sure they are properly washed before they are offered for sale or consumed.

Paul pointed out that while intermittent rainfall over the past few days did help wash some of the ash off surfaces and fields, the reality stands that volcanic ash is still falling.

“Once that eruption continues and we continue to get ash in Barbados it will pose a threat to farmers who cannot graze their animals,” he said. But there are enough farmers who do grow hay. But the worst-case scenario is that there is no hay and we are hoping we don’t get to that stage.”

Paul explained that farmers who currently have lettuce and okra planted must be careful when it is time to harvest. In fact, he said farmers may incur the additional expense of having to wash some of their crops.

“The other point I would like to make is in terms of okra. Once okra gets wet, it does not have as long a shelf life as [it] would have if you didn’t have to wash [it]. So there will be some challenges as a result of volcanic ash,” he said.

The long-term effect of volcanic ash is likely to be more positive. Twice in the history of volcanic ashfall in Barbados – 1902 and 1979 – farmers reported bumper crops the following year as the ash nourished starved soils.

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