By CONSTANCE COOPER
Daily News Staff
In an effort to boost fruit production in the territory, the V.I. Agriculture Department is offering $2 pineapple plants to local farmers.
Three popular commercial varieties not typically grown in the territory — sugar loaf, cayenne smooth and elite gold — will be available and will be shipped to growers for free in orders of 36 or more. The Agriculture Department will collect data about acreage and the the kinds of food grown by each farmer who orders the fruit.
The ultimate goal is to build a territorywide farming database, Agriculture Commissioner Louis Petersen Jr. said. Using that database, the department will be able to determine how much and what types of food the territory is capable of producing and compare that to foods that are being imported. The program is geared toward helping the Agriculture Department figure out how self-sufficient the islands can become.
“We continue to ask ourselves whether we can produce enough for the territory,” Petersen said. “Instead, we need to look at what we import on a yearly basis of a given commodity.”
Petersen said he hopes to bring a business-minded, scientific approach to farming to the territory, maximizing yields and profits.
“We’ve been asking the question for decades ‘Why aren’t we doing more?’” Petersen said. “I believe, if we add some structure, some formality to the process, we can.
Food is always going to be a need,” he said. “It’s a matter of: Where are you going to get it from? Where will your agricultural base be? Will it be under your feet, or will it be somewhere else?”
Given the popularity of pineapples and other tropical fruit in the hospitality industry, local growers will find a ready market, Petersen said.
And given the territory’s climate, pineapple production is a natural crop choice, according to Gerald Hodge Jr., president of the St. Thomas farmers association, We Grow Food Inc.
“You can establish a pineapple plot here easily, because they like the temperature and can do very good in the rocks,” Hodge said. “We’re similar to Hawaii and other regions that have done well with it.”
For more information, or to place a pineapple order, visit www.vifresh.com or call Jacqueline Kowalski at 778-0997 ext. 265. Orders must be placed by June 21.
— Contact reporter Constance