My Thoughts on Technology and Jamaica: How Turner Innovations Sorrel picking machine will profit from the Jamaica Sorrel Shortage of 2015

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

How Turner Innovations Sorrel picking machine will profit from the Jamaica Sorrel Shortage of 2015

First Eggs supplies were unsure and still are, albeit we have enough for ourselves and the rest of the Caribbean as explained in my blog article entitled “Jamaica Egg Industry boost Production for Christmas 2015 - Why H5N2 Avian Flu in USA and Canada boosting Caribbean Christmas Market”. 

Pork may also be short, hinting at possible price increases in the next seven (7) weeks as noted in my blog article entitled “Jamaican Pig Farmers say Pork Shortage over but Meat Processors worried – Why Possible Pork Price Profits for Pig Farmers this Christmas 2015”. 

Now Sorrel, that traditional fruit that's used to make a tasty Christmas drink, is also in short supply according to Food Processors who use Sorrel to make drinks and teas as reported in the article “Sorrel Crop Doubles, But Beverage Companies Still Feeling Supply Pinch”, published Sunday November 8, 2015 by Tameka Gordon, The Jamaica Gleaner.

The reason seems to be due to a combination of the drought plus the fact that Sorrel cultivation is now a year round activity, with people consuming Sorrel year round. Sorrel is even used in the making of Red Stripe's Sorrel Beer as noted in my blog article entitled “Red Stripe's Sorrel Beer - Opens up the Possibility of a Jamaican Fruit Tree of Beer Flavours”.  

So how are the farmer faring now that Sorrel supplies from Sorrel farmers are low?

Food Processors face Sorrel shortage - Local production cannot satisfy increasing local and international demand

According to Managing director of Jamaican Teas, John Mahfood, they can only get their hands on Sorrel in the Christmas season even as demand for Sorrel to make Sorrel tea is growing internationally, quote: “.....virtually all the Sorrel that is grown locally is grown for the Christmas. They don't grow Sorrel during the year for processors”.

For this reason, most of his Sorrel used to make Sorrel teas is mostly imported, as they’re experiencing challenges sourcing Sorrel locally.

St Catherine-based company Trade Winds, which produces Tru Juice line of juices, has Sorrel as one of their top seasonal beverages. They stockpile Sorrel from local farmers for the Christmas period, Managing Director of Trade Winds Peter McConnell: “We are meeting our ongoing demand, but we normally have to stockpile for Christmas. So we are actually actively trying to find more Sorrel to process in preparation for Christmas”.

However, the demand for Sorrel drink has now become year round over the past five (5) years forcing them to ramp up production as demand is increasing at a rate of 10% each year. Currently their supplies of Sorrel are as follows:

1.      30 acres of Sorrel grow on their own land
2.      75% from local farmers

So what are the Sorrel Farmers doing to meet the demand for Sorrel all year round as well as during the busy Christmas period, which is only seven (7) weeks away?

Ministry of Agriculture says more Sorrel is coming - Production set to pass 2013 levels

According to the Director of Agricultural Marketing Information at the Ministry of Agriculture, Michael Price, Sorrel is experiencing a boom time, despite the drought:

1.      600 tonnes in 2005
2.      1,200 tonnes in 2014
3.      1,500 tonnes in 2013

This production is being done by a handful of Sorrel farmers registered with RADA (Rural Agriculture Development Agency):

1.      67 Sorrel farmers
2.      St Catherine and St Mary are the main cultivators

Sorrel is also being processed in Westmoreland at the JA$27.8 million Sorrel Drink Processing Plant built jointly by the Bethel Town Agricultural Cooperative Society and the JSIF (Jamaica Social Investment Fund) as explained in my blog article entitled “How to make Jamaican Sorrel Wine – JA$2500 for 5 1 Liter Bottles of Sorrel Wine goes well with Chocolate Christmas Cake”.

Michael Price claims that Jamaica is on track to surpassing 2013 levels of 1,500 tonnes, quote: “Last year would have been affected by the drought, so the 1,500 tonnes [in 2013] is more likely to be where we are at, and that's 2.5 times where we were 10 years ago”.

In fact, he's claiming an increase in production, despite the current drought and lack of rains, quote: “The feeling I'm getting this year is, even in the height of the drought, the demand is so good and production has been going up in some of the areas where the drought has been less”.

But if the Farmers are on track to surpass 2013's 1,500 tonnes, which is 10 times the 2005 figure of 600 tonnes, why are there still reports of a supply shortage by food processors?

Sorrel picking still done by Hand in Jamaica - How Turner Innovations sorely picking machine might save Christmas 2015

Part of the problem may be the picking of the Sorrel itself, which is still done mainly by hand.

Even if there has been an increase, the money may not be there for farmers to employ labourers to pick Sorrel, hence resulting in the food processors not seeing the increase on their end, to quote Managing Director of Trade Winds Peter McConnell:  “I am surprised to hear that there is an increase.....Maybe there are plans to increase supplies, but as it stands right now, we are having a hard time meeting our demand”.

Turner Innovations Limited, owned by Oral and Allison Turner, have invented a Sorrel-harvesting machine as reported in the article “Local Sorrel Machine to Cut Harvesting Time and Cost”, published October 28, 2015 By Rochelle Williams, The Jamaica Information Service.

They’ve gotten angel investor backing to license the machine and sell it globally as reported in the article “With Angel Backing, Sorrel Machine Inventors Look Outward For Markets”, published Sunday October 4, 2015 by Tameka Gordon, The Jamaica Gleaner.

Turner Innovations Limited is also looking into the idea of a mobile version of their Sorrel-harvesting machine that they can send out to farm to process 2,000 pounds or more in 12 hours, displacing the work of some ten (10) people who'd normally strip 1000 pounds in one day.

Once their Sorrel-picking machine is commercialized, they may solve the supply problem to the food processors and potentially save Christmas 2015.....if all this happens in the next seven (7) weeks!

Otherwise, we're looking at a Christmas where prices for Sorrel will be high as local and international seasonal and year round demand is high. Throw in the fact that this product is still picked by hand, then one can see why prices for Sorrel will increase this Christmas 2015!

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