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Uncertain future for Abaco Big Bird

Paige McCartney The Nassau Guardian

Scenes of destruction at Abaco Big Bird Poultry Farm (Bahamas) on Abaco.

After losing all 24 acres of its lime crops due to Hurricane Dorian, Abaco Big Bird Poultry Farm (Bahamas) Limited said it is importing 1,000 Persian limes from California to replant its fields, but is unsure whether it would continue farming chickens, which has been its biggest business for a quarter century.

Abaco Big Bird Operations Manager Lance Pinder said yesterday he is not sure what’s next for the farm.

He said it appears that the farm will not be able to continue its chicken operations anymore either. The farm, like much of Abaco and Grand Bahama, was devastated after the passage of Hurricane Dorian in early September. 

Pinder said farmers, which are an integral part of the commerce market, are often forgotten by the government.

“This is what I would have liked, for the government to show up at our farm,” he said in an interview with Guardian Business.

“We’re the only meat producing farm in The Bahamas. We’ve been there for 25 years.

“It’s not like we just started there and it failed.

“What I would like for the government to have done is showed up and say, ‘Hey man, what can we do to help you to get this operation back up and running? You know. It’s nothing, nothing from the government.”

“And the chicken, I don’t think we’re going to do that anymore. Part of the problem is the government, this new customs regulation. My son, who used to run the farm, all he does now is sit from daylight to dark working on customs regulations to try to clear stuff to come into the country. And he can’t manage the farm anymore.

“That new customs deal is a real hindrance to our farm here. You all don’t have it in Nassau yet and they wouldn’t do it there because people would kill them if they did.”

In the meantime, the farmer said apart from planting new crops in hopes of a successful harvest in another two or three years, he’s not sure what’s next for Abaco Big Bird Poultry Farm.

“I don’t know, I really don’t know,” he said.

“We’re still trying to survive. We’re still in survival mode. We’re doing okay. We’ve opened up a little shop. We’re selling a few groceries, more just to help people out and ourselves at the time.”

Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis announced that the government has designated Abaco and Grand Bahama as “special economic recovery zones” for three years.

Minnis added that these special economic recovery zones will be granted “duty-free purchase of all materials, fixtures, furniture, vehicles, equipment for all business needs and for all business and residential construction/rehabilitation efforts”.

Limes and avocados

In a post on its social media page, Abaco Big Bird said it suffered “total devastation of our lime groves”.

“Not one tree out of the 24 acres is salvageable,” the post read.

“Where do you start from here? The chicken part of the farm is destroyed and there will be two years before any avocados will be ready for sale, and the limes are totally wiped out.”

Pinder said that it would be another three years before the farm can produce the dozens of bushels of limes it supplied to Bahamian markets.

“We’re looking at putting down 1,000 plants which is just about as many as we had in already,” he said.

“We’re just going to plant them a little closer together and take up less space so it will be easier to take care of them. We’re also looking at putting in some other fruit plants. We’re not really sure what it’s going to be but we’re going to do some other stuff too.

“We can’t purchase from anywhere in the United States, I think it’s only California that they’ll let us import citrus from. It used to be Texas but for some reason that [stopped]. It’s all about the diseases, canker and greening, which we don’t need over here. The only thing we can import is, they call it a bare stick, which is a stick with a bud on it and just a few roots on it. That’s all we can import. Which is in one way it’s cheaper to do that, [but] it takes a little longer for the trees to come back. It’ll be three years before we have any amount of limes again.

“They’ll produce limes in a year, but you have a little baby tree, you don’t want limes on it. We actually take them off so the tree grows instead of putting energy into the fruit. And the second year we’ll have a few, but the third year the trees should be three, four feet tall, so you’ll be able to have a few large [ones].”

Pinder said the farm also lost almost a quarter of its avocado grove.

“We have avocado fields, 2,000 avocado (plants) which got damaged, but we’re probably going to lose about 20 percent of them,” he said.

“…They’ll have fruit next year but not a lot because the trees really got distressed and it’s going to take two years before they grow out [a]nd have any amount of strength left to produce any amount of fruit. We’ll have a few next year but the following year I think we’ll have a pretty good crop out. But in the meantime, we’ve got nothing. We’re out of business.”

The loss of crops is a major blow. Pinder estimated that Abaco Big Bird lost around $1 million.

It has the company rethinking its entire farming model.

“We are unsure of what will happen with the chicken operation at this point,” said Cindy Pinder, an employee of the farm, on the company’s Facebook page.

“We [are] waiting on [the] insurance settlement and talks with the government regarding ease of doing business before any decisions can be made, but we will be replanting the fields and are looking to import Persian limes from California because of restrictions on importing citrus.”

Both lamented the lack of insurance and support farmers have from the government and private insurers.

“Farmers cannot get private crop insurance in The Bahamas,” the company wrote on Facebook.

“There is no government crop assistance/insurance or recovery program and no farmer to our knowledge has ever gotten anything more than a token couple [of] bags of fertilizer (like ten).”

Lance Pinder noted yesterday that, “You can’t insure crops. No insurance company will insure crops.”

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