The Benefits of Greenhouse Farming to the Jamaican Farmer

Greenhouse farming has become one of the biggest agricultural trends to hit Jamaica in recent years. After seeing the successful results of indoor farming by their neighbours, Jamaicans are becoming increasingly interested in learning how to get started with their own greenhouses.

Jamaica is no stranger to natural disasters and farms, in particular, can be devastated by even minor changes in weather. The greatest thing about greenhouse farming is that it minimizes weather’s potential impact. By moving all of the crops indoors, farmers no longer need to worry about wind and rain. Like traditional outdoor farming, there are many methods for indoor farming but the most important step is to get a good greenhouse.

If you’re thinking about farming indoors, your first step is to build a greenhouse. While the construction can be expensive, many people experimenting with greenhouses are finding that it pays off quite well. Not only are farmers producing more fruits and vegetables, they are also getting higher quality crops. With greenhouse farming, growers need less space than they do with traditional outdoor farming and they are able to increase their growing season by using controlled indoor conditions.

Studies have shown that greenhouses produce nine pounds per tomato plant versus the approximate three and half pounds of tomatoes typically grown from a single plant in the field. The ability to control the conditions inside a greenhouse, on top of the potential for year-round growing, has gotten people excited about greenhouse growing’s potential.

One of the biggest obstacles to greenhouse farming is properly planning your water source. Piped water can damage plants so your most cost effective route is to create a catchment system that allows rain water to be utilized. You will still need to plan for droughts and the potential cost of having water hauled in just as you would with outdoor farming.

Although the water supply is an issue, the ability to prevent pests has been a major benefit for greenhouse growers. The controlled conditions nearly eliminate the need for pesticides, which results in healthier food for consumers and cheaper growing costs for farmers.

USAID’s $18 million initiative, Build Back Better, is focused on helping Jamaicans rebuild after natural disasters and greenhouses are a major part of their plan. By creating a weather resistant environment, greenhouse farmers are able to work through even the worst of conditions and be less affected when disasters do strike.

Joining alongside USAID, the Agency for Inner City Renewal has gotten on board with the growing greenhouse movement in Jamaica. In 2011, they created a greenhouse in the centre of Trench Town. Their initial goal was to allow people within the community to start growing food in an effort to help them establish food security for their own families. The project, however, has completely exceeded their expectations. As the people of Trench Town became more engaged in greenhouse farming, they became able to meet their own families’ needs then sell off crops to actually make a profit.

The Jamaica Gleaner recently published an interview with Charmaine Palmer-Cross and Leebert Cross. The couple from Sanguinetti Clarendon, started greenhouse farming in 2010 and have been thrilled with their results. They began their venture with help from the Jamaica Greenhouse Growers Association. They started small with just a bit of Romaine lettuce and are now growing on a large scale with three employees. They’ve been thrilled by their success, particularly with lettuce, callaloo, tomatoes, and sweet peppers, and are now moving into an even bigger greenhouse.

The Palmer-Cross family is not alone in their love of greenhouse farming. With more than 22,000 people laid off in the past year and the regular threats to outdoor farming brought on by natural disasters, more and more people are turning to greenhouse farming.

If you think greenhouse farming might be for you, consider getting greenhouse technology training. The Ebony Park HEART/NTA Academy in Clarendon (987-1334-6) offers a certification programme in Modified Environment Agriculture, which will teach you everything you will need to know to get started. The programme is free and will guide you through everything from fertilisation to nutrition. When you are ready to build your own greenhouse, contact the Ministry of Agriculture (977-0322) for more information on low-cost building materials.

©Tony Thomas
(Do not reproduce in any form without expressed permission from the author.)