Local farmers facing challenges
In spite of the showers on Tuesday, Grand Cayman has experienced a much drier rainy season this year than average and the situation is likely to get worse before it gets better.
According to statistics provided by the Cayman Islands National Weather Service, between May and October, typically the rainiest months of the year along with November, Grand Cayman received 29.57 inches of rain, almost a foot less than the 30-year average 41.23 inches during that period. November, which typically sees just over six inches of rain, only had about 20mm – 0.79 inches – through Nov. 17, increasing the likelihood that November will mark the seventh straight month of below-average rainfall on Grand Cayman.
This week, the Caribbean Drought & Precipitation Monitoring Network issued its November bulletin expressing concern over an evolving drought in the western Caribbean in the vicinity of Belize and the Cayman Islands. The network’s drought outlook map through the end of January 2015 puts the Cayman Islands under a drought warning and suggests an action level of “be prepared, conserve water, protect.”
This year started off wetter than normal, with 5.28 inches of rain falling in January, which, on average, only receives 2.04 inches. However, since that month, only April received more rain than that 30-year average for the month.
The drier-than-usual summer has caused problems for Cayman’s farmers.
Farmer Joel Walton of Plantation House Organic Gardens, who speaks with many of Cayman’s other farmers, said many of them are complaining that crop yields are low and they don’t have much to sell. He said that he and other growers who are using hydroponic systems for some or all of their crops aren’t as badly affected.
“So it’s mainly the field growers who are having trouble,” he said.
As for crop shortages, the shortfall of rain is particularly hard on leafy green vegetables.
“There’s a lot less callaloo out there and I thought I’d never see that,” Mr. Walton said.
The drier-than-normal conditions might also be a contributing factor to the unusual pest problems farmers have faced this year.
“This year the white flies and aphids have been very bad,” he said. “It is particularly unusual, and never in all my years of growing have I seen so much.”
Mr. Walton said there’s also been a problem this year with sooty mold, which is often called black lice in Cayman. Although the fungus is typical on certain fruit trees like guava and naseberry every year, he said it had spread to several other trees like mango and longan this year.
“It’s been everywhere,” he said.
Farmer Patrick Panton of East End Garden Centre & Gifts said he’s also experienced unusual pest problems this year, particularly with pinworms and armyworms, with multiple infestations from both that required organic treatments.
“We’ve never had a problem with pinworm before,” he said.
Because much of the foliage around his farm turned brown because of the summer drought, Mr. Panton surmised the pinworms sought fresher targets. “They were attracted by green.”
A drought-related problem that is of bigger concern to Mr. Panton is the salinity of the groundwater. Two fresh water wells – one natural and one dug – that he uses on his farm are showing salt levels about double what is recommended for farming because of the shortfall of diluting fresh rainwater.
Mr. Panton, who uses the water in the wells for irrigation, said he is monitoring the situation closely and that he’s hoping not to have to buy fresh water, which could impact the prices consumers pay.
Although Mr. Panton’s citrus trees are fairly drought resistant, he said not many of the things he grows actually like drought, except for cactus.
“It’s been a good year for prickly pears,” he said.