On Wednesday, Agriculture Commissioner Positive Nelson gave good news and bad news to the Economic Development Committee. He testified that his department “continues to experience growth as we have increased efficiency, improved our relationships, hired staff; bought equipment, repaired most buildings and got pay raises. Morale is improved, but constantly tested by break-ins and breakdowns.
The conditions of the slaughterhouses in the territory reflected the good and the bad. The St. Thomas slaughterhouse remains closed, as it has been for half a dozen years, and the St. Croix slaughterhouse has been inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Inspection Service at mid-April and received high praise. Nelson said: ‘The review team was very impressed with the significant improvements made to the facility and commended the staff and management for their ‘dedication, knowledge, continued progress in respect and commitment’. to excellence in learning and compliance with regulatory requirements.
The senators asked Nelson why, if half a million dollars has been set aside for the rehabilitation or relocation of the St. Thomas Slaughterhouse, nothing has yet been done. Nelson replied that the Department of Agriculture was simply waiting for a specification to be prepared by the Department of Public Works.
The St. Croix and St. Thomas slaughterhouses, according to Nelson, “are the only government-owned and operated slaughterhouses in the United States.” With the St. Thomas/St. Since John’s district is closed, farmers in that district can have their animals slaughtered at St. Croix with government-paid transportation. Nelson reported that since the start of this year, 19 cows, 165 sheep, one goat and 39 pigs have been slaughtered. Ten of these pigs came from St. Thomas.
Senator Alma Francis Heyliger, who said her husband was a farmer, asked Nelson why most farmers she spoke to said Nelson was not doing a good job.
Nelson said that many of the problems facing the department had been problems for decades and that many of the projects he wanted to see happen were not moving as fast as he would like because “the cogs of the government are turning slowly”. He added that he did not believe it was a popular feeling among farmers that he was not doing a good job.
Senator Novelle Francis asked Nelson about a project he said had been underway since 2015. He referred to Nelson’s testimony where he reported that agriculture was working with the Department of Property and Supply to catalog all properties belonging to the Ministry of Agriculture and update the list. Nelson replied that this project was more extensive than the project mentioned in 2015. He said that this project was to determine if all agricultural properties were operated by those who had signed up for its use.
Senator Genevieve Whitaker asked Nelson about a letter sent to a farmer who farmed Department of Agriculture land. The letter would have said that the land was going to be taken from him.
Nelson said he believed no letters were sent saying farmland was going to be taken from a farmer, only letters saying farmers were to meet with ministry officials to discuss land use. Nelson said farmers could be registered to use five acres of land, but only use half an acre and the practice must end.
Senator Kenneth Gittens, chairman of the committee, asked Nelson to submit a detailed report on two break and enters mentioned by Nelson in his testimony and an incident when a miscreant drove a golf cart through a Department of Health fence. ‘Agriculture.
Nelson said the Department’s $100,000 gear should be secured with more than goat wire.
Francis also asked what the Department was doing about deer in the territory. He said the deer were causing “real damage to gardens”. Nelson said farmers were allowed to trap the deer and then call the Department of Natural Resources, who would then shoot the deer.
Francis said he was happy to hear Nelson report that payments were being made to animal shelters in the territory. He said the shelters were doing work the government couldn’t do.
Nelson told senators, “A bountiful agriculture industry is much more than an economic engine. It is a question of territorial security. We are heavily dependent on imports which may be disrupted by COVID, national disasters, global conflicts, labor issues and prohibitive costs.
Committee members present were Francis, Wayne DeGraff, Whitaker, Gittens, Heyliger and Milton Potter. Donna Frett-Gregory and Javan James were absent.