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Comment: Legislators, be an example and protect the first agricultural lands of Sainte-Croix

By on October 1, 2021 0
The Farmers Market at the Ministry of Agriculture Exhibition Center in Sainte-Croix shows a small sample of the variety of produce grown by USVI farmers. (Source file photo by Diana Dias)

This is an open letter to lawmakers in the US Virgin Islands. I wrote an article in our local newspaper last year about an existing law to protect prime agricultural land in the Virgin Islands. In the Virgin Islands Code, Title 7 – Agriculture Chapter 1 – Development of sustainable agriculture, subchapter 1, Law 6836 on sustainable agriculture was enacted several years ago to protect prime agricultural land in the Virgin Islands.

Olasee davis
Olasee Davis (photo submitted)

Section (b) of Law 6836 states: “The purpose of this chapter is to promote and protect the agricultural industry of the Virgin Islands, including the protection of prime agricultural land necessary to promote and protect public health. , the safety and well-being of the people of the Virgin Islands. Through several sources, I have been informed that there are discussions among some lawmakers who are considering swapping main government farmland with other land to allow development to move forward. Law 6836 prohibits the use of main government agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes.

This development project will take place between the VI Department of Agriculture food building and the Sainte-Croix educational complex where farmers and customers park their vehicles to attend the annual Agrifest, and the Saturday and Wednesday farmers markets in the north. from the University of the Virgin Islands. Campus. In fact, I got a call from a senator asking if I knew where this land should be traded for prime agricultural land.

Quality agricultural land is based on the combination of physical and chemical characteristics of soils producing food for human consumption. Soil is a complex science. So the soil is a living organism which breathes and gives life to other organisms, including man. Soil is science, not dirt. When I was in the first year of university, I took a course in soil science, which was required for my degree in agriculture. I will never forget when the teacher said to the class, “He doesn’t teach dirt in this class, but floors. Dirt is something you sweep under your bed. This statement was profound and has remained with me to this day.

However, what our lawmakers fail to understand is that prime agricultural land differs from other agricultural land in that it is generally made up of highly productive soils. You cannot trade main government farmland for other land because you want to achieve a political goal.

Quality farmland is defined by the US Department of Agriculture as “the land best suited to food, forage, forage, fiber, and oil crops.” Prime agricultural lands produce the highest yields with minimal input of energy and economic resources, and their use causes the least damage to the environment. There are many factors when designating an area as prime agricultural land. Some of these factors are soil types, water and nutrient availability.

The central plain of Sainte-Croix has the most productive soils of the Virgin Islands. At the same time, it is the most vulnerable to the urbanization of agricultural areas which would drastically alter the landscape of the central plain and destroy much of its natural beauty. We have already lost more than half of the fertile land of the central plain of Sainte-Croix, which is forever assigned to non-agricultural uses. Therefore, preserving quality agricultural soil can make the difference between a prosperous society and poverty.

The physical properties of soils – structure, texture, density, consistency, porosity, temperature and color – are dominant factors affecting land use. These properties determine water in or through soils, and the availability of oxygen in soils for plant growth. The central plain of Sainte-Croix has an underground reservoir due to its unique soil development which makes water more available for plant development. The Kingshill Aquifer is the most productive and developed aquifer in the Virgin Islands, covering approximately 25 square miles of the central plain of St. Croix.

Nonetheless, I don’t need to explain what humus, aggregates, organic matter, etc. are for everyone in relation to the composition of the soil profile. This is one of the reasons that the fertile soils of the central plain of St. Croix have been designated as prime agricultural land by local scientists and the United States Department of Agriculture. As early as 1965, the report entitled “The Reconstruction of the Agricultural Economy of Sainte-Croix” emphasized how precious soils are to support the future development of the agricultural industry in the Virgin Islands.

“St. Croix has high quality land suitable for a wide variety of crops. At the very least, this land should be able to provide for most of the food needs of the islands themselves; if the cultivation methods are brought to a stage comparable to those practiced abroad, only the transport costs should favor the national producer, since his soils are perfectly adequate ”, notes the summary report of 1965 on the development and the reconstruction of agriculture in Sainte-Croix.

As we get our nutrients from what we eat, so do plants in their development. Plants take up nutrients from the soil, primarily what soil scientists call ions. This means that there is an electrical charge and how plants take up nutrients from the soil. There are some 16 essential elements taken up by plant roots, mainly in ionic forms, to support their growth and development. These elements are carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, potassium, nitrogen, sulfur, calcium, iron, magnesium, boron, manganese, copper, zinc, molybdenum and chlorine.

Thus, nutrients are one of the key components of highly productive soils. My dear lawmakers, the soil is not as simple as you might think by swapping one piece of land for another. Converting prime agricultural land to non-agricultural use has negative long-term consequences. Unfortunately, development often results in the preferential conversion of highly productive land. It is for this purpose that laws have been promulgated, to safeguard the well-being of the people of the Virgin Islands with food security.

Lawmakers, be an example to the Virgin Island community and uphold the law to protect prime farmland, not out of political convenience.

Olasee Davis is an Extension Professor / Natural Resources Extension Specialist at the University of the Virgin Islands who writes about the culture, history, ecology and environment of the Virgin Islands when not leading treks in the Virgin Islands. places and wild spaces of St. Petersburg. Cross and beyond.

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