A Ready Market
Thanks to two famous rum distillers on its south shore, tiny St. Croix is the world’s largest per capita consumer of sugar. The Cruzan and Captain Morgan brands purchase $30 to $40 million of molasses made from sugar cane – all of it grown offshore.
The sugar is traded as a nameless commodity, so the standard prices paid to the farmer are lower, whilst London-based traders and import middleman earn more – about four times the value of the crop.
It wasn’t always this way. St. Croix grew its own sugar cane until June 30, 1966, when one man, former Governor Ralph Paiewonksy, changed agriculture history. Palewonsky closed the sugar mills and farms, laid off the workers with severance pay, and gave 6,000 fertile acres to start oil and aluminum refineries.
Puerto Rico took a similar path. And so the farmlands on both islands went into a long sleep.
Today, to encourage rum production, the Virgin Islands government subsidizes 93% of the cost of sugar imports – about $40,000,000 a year.
What better reason to revive sugar cane than to keep more of this money in our own communities?
A Good Starter Crop
While we expect to grow other crops in the future, sugar cane is an excellent starting point for the aspiring production farmer – one who wants to supply many people – and it has attractive holistic qualities, too.
Like a potato, sugar cane regenerates from itself rather than a separate seed, and grows back several times before it must be replanted. The plant’s strong root system holds the soil in place. The tops of the cane form an umbrella of shade, keeping down weeds, and the crushed stalks mulch the soil.
Because it gets most of what it needs from our rich island soils, sugar cane also requires very little fertilizer or pesticides. In fact, it adds more to the soil than it takes out.
And besides providing the syrup for distilling rum, sugar cane makes a delicious, healthy juice that can also be fermented, as we plan to do, for flavorful, artisanal rum.