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To improve quality of Belizean vegetables, testing is necessary says New River Farmers Cooperative Secretary Max Hernandez

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Posted: Wednesday, May 19, 2021. 12:43 pm CST.

By Rubén Morales Iglesias: “The consumer wants a carrot that has good flavour,” said Maximiliano Hernandez, secretary of the New River Farmers Cooperative Society, during the visit of the Minister of Agriculture, Food Security and Enterprise (MAFSE) Jose Abelardo Mai last week.

“To produce you have to invest,” Hernandez said. “We are using our own resources and loans to do so.”

Hernandez told Minister Mai that the farmers have been testing to see what varieties grow well in the New River area but he believes that seed importers need to lead the way.

“The seeds importers do not invest,” Hernandez told Minister Mai. “The small producers make the testing and the importers of seeds benefit.”

“Seed importers need to research what seed varieties grow well in the different areas of the country,” Hernández said.

“Mennonites from Springfield imported Coral 2 which works well in San Carlos,” Hernandez said while pointing out that what works well in Cayo doesn’t necessarily grow well in Orange Walk and other parts of the country and that’s why research to find out what varieties grow well in the different areas of the country, is necessary.

“We are testing six varieties of carrots for quality, color, size, and a fungus that affects the vegetable,” said farmer Cristino Perez and his sons Lucio and Ruben who are among those conducting the testing to find out which varieties are more suitable to grow in the New River area and at what times of the year they grow better as well and which are pest-resistant.

“The best are the Coral and Orange Glory,” they said. “Orange Glory is thinner but sweeter.”

Perez said carrots have to be harvested within 90 to 95 days otherwise they start growing roots and the vegetable gets hard. Rain and high temperatures also affect the quality they added.

Hernandez said the cooperative founded in January 1984 with 38 members, which include six women, has changed to go with the times and what grows best in the region. He said that after ten years they ventured into habanero peppers and did well, but later their concentration turned to carrots, potatoes, and onions.

The testing conducted by the New River Farmers Cooperative Society in the area of San Carlos and Indian Church has had good returns. This year they harvested over 200,000 pounds of carrots.

They also produced 500,000 million pounds of onions and potatoes, and over 200,000 pounds of cabbages and watermelons and other vegetables such as corn, tomatoes and hot pepper in an area of 1,500 acres of land.

“Our production is good enough. In the last months of the year, we have had better production. The red soil here helps with the color of the carrots,” Hernandez said.

Minister Mai said the MAFSE is conducting testing in Central Farm with the assistance of Agro Vet Jiron and Sons and Bejo GT from Guatemala.

“Bejo is assisting us in testing seeds at Central Farm,” said Mai who last month travelled to Bejo GT in Guatemala to find out more about varieties of vegetables that might grow well in Belize.

Hernandez also pointed out that the farmers have to deal with pests like those affecting the carrots, onions, and cabbages they grow.

Hernandez said that their cabbage production was affected by the Diamond Back worm.

Despite the challenges, the New River Farmers have been doing well, but Hernandez said they have to improve what they produce so the consumer will buy their products.

To that end, Hernandez asked the visiting extension officers from MAFSE to help them produce better quality onions, carrots, and potatoes.

Mai promised the MAFSE will keep cooperating with the farmers.

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