Friday, March 08 1996 21
Whither agriculture on St. Croix?
This year, the Agriculture and
Food Fair was a great success. The
question is, what happens to agri-
culture after the fair?
Our government has a long his-
tory of broken promises when it
comes to the development of agri-
culture in these islands.
I will not try to give you a com-
plete history lesson on agriculture
in these islands. However, I will
talk about the reconstruction of
agriculture from the 1960s to the
St. Croix was and still is the cen-
ter of agriculture for the Virgin
Islands. During the Paiewonsky
administration the reconstruction of
agriculture on St. Croix started. In
1965, Gov. Paiewonsky requested a
report on the agricultural develop-
ment possibilities of the island.
It was known that a phasing-out
of sugar cane production would in
all likelihood be necessary since the
central mill on St Croix had been
sold by the Virgin Islands corpora-
tion of the federal government to a
private concern which would not
guarantee it would continue grind-
ing cane for an indefinite period.
The central sugar cane factory was
the biggest provider of employment
on St. Croix.
The purchaser of the sugar facto-
ry announced that, due to substan-
tial losses during the 1964-65 grind-
ing season, the factory would close
This caused the elimination of
the sugar cane industry on St. Croix
- an industry involving more than
4,000 acres of cane land, 113 farms
and a gross return of more than
$600,000 in less than one year.
With this dilemma, Gov.
Paiewonsky asked his administra-
tion to address the issue and pro-
vide an alternative for cane farmers
who, within 10 months, no longer
would have a market for their cane.
This problem was aggravated by
the fact that cane farmers had little
experience with other crops after
many generations of monocultural
farming, which contributes to insta-
bility, since any one environmental
factor can cause a crop to fail.
Also, the government had nei-
ther the capital for conversion to
other crops nor a reliable market for
such crops produced by local farm-
ers. Furthermore, the governor was
faced with the demand for building
sites. Most of the primary agricul-
tural land of St. Croix would likely
be sold for urban uses if farmers
were not provided with an alterna-
Producing oranges on 2,500
acres as an alternative crop was ini-
tiated in the early 1960s, but the
project was killed by politics,
according to some local farmers.
Many old farmers today are still
mad with the local government
about how they handled the recon-
struction of agriculture on St. Croix.
The government also was faced
with the challenge of saving agri-
culture on St. Croix and, in part,
preserving the rural landscape from
Thus, a reconstruction study of
agriculture was carried out by agri-
cultural specialists. The demise of
sugar on St. Croix would have one
of two effects, specialists said.
Sugar's downfall could lead to a
very rapid and irreversible change
from a predominantly rural, agricul-
tural landscape to an urbanized, or
suburbanized, landscape. Or sugar
could be replaced by other agricul-
tural enterprises and the landscape
would remain rural.
The specialists recommended
that every possible effort be made
to reconstruct the agriculture of St.
Croix provided only that the recon-
structed agricultural industry prove
itself profitable. They concluded
that the demand for building sites
on St. Croix could be satisfied on
undeveloped, non-agricultural land.
Urbanization of the agricultural
areas would radically alter the land-
scape of St. Croix and destroy its
natural beauty. This is not only an
aesthetic issue, nor even simply a
question of cultural pride for the
people of St. Croix. The status of
the island's landscape has important
economic implications. The attrac-
tiveness of St. Croix is its most
important asset for tourists and even
certain light industries.
During the Juan Luis administra-
tion, the governor bought more than
2,000 acres in the central lowlands
to develop for agriculture. Instead
of agriculture, the land was devel-
oped into the new St. Croix Educa-
tional Complex, National Guard,
Castle Burke community and other
The central primary agricultural
land of St. Croix is rapidly becom-
ing urbanized. One day, believe me,
we will pay for our sin of nortaking
agriculture seriously and protecting
Olasee Davis, who holds a mas-
ter ofscience degree in range man-
agement and forestry ecology, is a
St. Croix ecologist, activist and