By Christopher Tobutt
Making shallow, rocky soil into thick, rich, rock-free soil is just a dream for most Cayman farmers. Now Beacon Farms at Frank Sound have made that dream possible through their new land improvement services. The 34-acre farm began making the change several years ago, when it introduced a comprehensive composting facility, which-turns plant trash that would normally be taken to the George Town Dump, along with cardboard and chipped wood, into rich dark compost.
Then they purchased a state-of-the-art rock crushing machine, which is driven by a powerful John Deere tractor. The combination moves slowly over rocky ground, pulverizing even quite big boulders into a sandy substrate, which, when mixed with the compost, actually makes new soil to a depth of around 18 inches. It was great news for the farm which has already transformed more than five acres of their land. The farm grows cash crops such as tobacco to make Cayman’s very own cigars, sold all over the world through the Cayman Cigar Company. The money they make is used to support local people in recovery, while the farm also provides real jobs for them while they turn their life around.
Now its great news for local farmers, too, because Beacon Farms has started hiring out their machinery, plus the backing of their experts who have tried and tested the machinery under real life conditions. They are offering their service, which will become another income stream to support their non-profit enterprises, at between CI $5,000 to CI $10,000 per acre. They can also add humus to the crushed rocks from their composting facility, subject to availability.
It really makes a big difference because it represents a permanent and sustainable alternative to endlessly making up for poor growing conditions by adding artificial fertilizers which can gradually degrade the soil structure. Improving the soil quality like that not only improves the productivity of the farm, but helps ensure good stewardship of Cayman’s natural resources, passing them on to future generations.
Beacon Farms Chief Operating Officer Sandy Urquhart said, “Poor soil quality is a common challenge on Cayman. Creating nutrient rich soil increases the volume and quality of crops. Expanding the output improves the financial viability for small farms as well as helping to improve food security in the Cayman Islands. Land improvement is a one-time investment that reaps benefits for years.”
One of the first farms to benefit has been Greenhaven Farm in Bodden Town. Owner Steve Hawley said, “On Cayman, our greatest limitation in farming has been the very ground we plant in. Cayman has no fields of deep soil. We have coral rock with tiny pockets where we might plant a yam or possibly a tree. The new rock crusher from Beacon Farms is a large machine that’s capable of transforming our land. It not only can make an acre of solid rock into an acre that can be completely planted with ground crops, it can pulverize in rows, so that, for the first time in Cayman, we can plant a row-orchard with drive spaces between.”