Trinidad & Tobago will soon be home to the Caribbean’s largest source of locally-grown fresh organic berries. A 12-acre climate-smart hydroponic greenhouse farm located on Cove Estate in Tobago will specialize in fresh organic berries and greens for local consumption, providing a unique opportunity for the commercial production of ‘cold weather’ crops in a Category 5 hurricane resistant tropical setting, with major implications for food security, climate resilience and import substitution.
The initiative, pioneered by Trinidad & Tobago company Berrycove Limited— borne out of a partnership between Anthony N. Sabga Limited, Alquimi Renewables LLC and Island Growers Caribbean— belies not only natural climactic limitations but also the threat of anthropogenic climate change.
Advanced agtech and climate smart protected agriculture provides a solution for the climate-related barriers to growing a variety of organic crops in harsh tropical environments plagued by climate change impacts.
The team is exploring potential opportunities to replicate the project across the region, with enormous potential to enhance the food security of environmentally vulnerable Small Island Developing States.
Berrycove and Island Growers Caribbean are evaluating opportunities to build additional farms throughout the region over the next several years. In 2021, the farming operations entity expects to have 3 farms operating in Trinidad & Tobago, Barbados and Antigua. It is also developing a dedicated resort farm project in Anguilla, as well as third-party projects in Puerto Rico and Belize.
Berrycove’s first phase project at Cove Estate will utilize IAT/Sprung advanced climate smart greenhouse and hydroponic production systems specifically engineered for the sub-tropical climate conditions of the region.
Alquimi and its strategic engineering and manufacturing partner, Sprung Structures Ltd., developed the highly specialized greenhouse system to support Island Growers Caribbean farming projects throughout the region and other island states affected by severe climatic threats.
The initial investment will see the construction of the 42,000 square foot greenhouse farm in Tobago, which will produce over 22 tons of fresh berries per month as well as fresh organic greens once it is in full operation. Later phases of the project will seek to increase production levels and introduce a freezing and packaging component for frozen berry exports across the region.
“As a diversified portfolio company, Berrycove is continually evaluating new sectors for investment that can have a positive impact on the region,” says David Sabga, Chairman of Berrycove Limited. “We believe protected food production is a high value investment opportunity with considerable growth opportunities.”
According to Trinidad & Tobago Trade Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon, food imports totaled approximately $828,561,440 in 2019, of which roughly $325,506,280 consisted of fruits and vegetables, creating a drain on foreign exchange reserves and undermining the nation’s food security.
Sabga hopes to counter the increasing dependence on food imports in Trinidad and the Caribbean region by strategically substituting fresh produce imports with locally grown foods, while also exploring regional export opportunities.
By focusing on heavily imported ‘cold weather’ crop categories and producing them in its proprietary climate smart hydroponic greenhouse farms, Island Growers Caribbean intends to improve food quality to organic levels, and ensure a consistent supply throughout the year by introducing the first 100% fully integrated climate resilient greenhouse systems.
“Low tech greenhouses have been used for decades in the Caribbean, but tropical storms destroyed many of these farms, and very few of them were rebuilt,” explains Ralph Birkhoff, Co-Founder and Chief Commercial Officer of Island Growers Caribbean. “We’re introducing customized, state-of-the-art agtech to the region for the first time to provide a truly sustainable food production solution.”
Alquimi designed its integrated greenhouse systems specifically for the Caribbean region taking into account all of the inherent risk factors.
“Our greenhouse system represents the new standard in performance and climate resilience which is critical to operating and insuring commercial farm operations in regions constantly threatened by cyclonic wind events and flooding,” says Birkhoff. “These are the strongest greenhouse systems in the world– and the only system that is engineer-certified to 175mph sustained wind loads and 202mph gusts, as well as being earthquake, flood, and pestilent resistant.”
Inside these greenhouses is a customized, sub-tropical SAEF hydroponic system designed by the farming entity’s Director of Horticulture, Joseph Chidiac, to deliver the highest potential crop yields while using less energy and water than typical hydroponic systems.
The totally integrated greenhouse systems are also naturally aspirated, requiring no evaporative cooling or HVAC systems which saves energy cost and reduces the risk of humidity related plant damage.
“Energy costs are extremely high in most Caribbean islands, and fresh water is always a limited resource, so our farms employ low energy production systems, and advanced water control systems to reduce our overall cost of production and eliminate the need for greenhouse cooling,” says Birkhoff. “As we expand our farms we will also integrate solar energy generation where required, to reduce operational cost.”
The new Tobago farm will include production of 45,000 lbs per month of various organic berry fruits including strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries for fresh local supply and potential nearby export, in addition to a selection of organic greens. Berrycove intends to expand the farm up to 15 acres and add a processing plant that will see frozen exports of their berry products throughout the region.
Birkhoff, who also serves as General Manager of Berrycove says, “Our mission is to introduce a higher level of protected agriculture technologies designed specifically for the Caribbean region, to overcome the multiple risks of farming in this part of the world, and start building consistent food production, reduce food imports, and offer a much higher level of food quality and diversity of fresh produce.
We can now grow food during a major hurricane event.”