The Secretary of Agriculture, Dr. Myrna Comas Pagan, said on Tuesday that they had signed a collaborative agreement with the Syngenta Foundation as part of their project to increase the food security of Puerto Ricans.
"In November 2013, the Secretary of State, Dr. David Bernier, and Ambassador Marlene Gonzalez, signed an agreement to determine the feasibility of production of iceberg lettuce, which would also include the collaboration of the University of Puerto Rico, the Department of Agriculture, and the Golden Arches. This would establish a social responsibility project with small farmers who produce iceberg lettuce for McDonalds," said Comas Pagan.
She stated that Puerto Rico imported 120,000 quintals of iceberg lettuce per year, i.e. 100 percent of what the country consumes. McDonalds takes 5 percent of that market.
Initially, Dr. Fernando Gallardo, a researcher at the Agricultural Experiment Station, tested different varieties that were considered more optimal for the tropics. The results were shared with the farmers participating in the project and with the technical staff of the Assistant Secretary for Agricultural Innovation, and the Innovation and Agricultural Development Fund of the DA.
At this stage, researchers tested the production of iceberg lettuce with six farmers who had received funds from the Regional Agricultural Markets Incentives Program (PIMAR).
That work proved that we can produce iceberg lettuce of the Summertime variety for the fresh market, and not just for the processed industry.
In addition, the field phase with farmers showed that it was necessary to increase the efficient use of inputs, work with higher temperatures, increase the length of the leaves, and have better nutrient management, because this resulted in higher production costs.
She said, thanks to the recommendations of the Golden Arches and the Syngenta Foundation, the team had proposed hiring a specialist in this crop to continue the program so that the initiative could be successful. Elio Guevara, an agronomist that specializes in greenhouse crops, has established the educational process with two of our lettuce growers and agronomists assigned to the project.
Then they cultivated the Bruma variety, which is best suited to the tropics and is suitable for the industry. Yesterday, 238.26 pounds that were harvested in the farm of Miguel Soto in Lares were processed and packaged. The iceberg lettuce had a yield of 189.2 pounds, or 80 percent. The lettuce imported and processed here has yields below 60 percent. This lettuce is imported from California and transported to Georgia to be processed before it reaches Puerto Rico, so it may be in transit some 15 days between its harvest until it arrives at a table. Meanwhile, the lettuce produced and processed locally would be available for consumption in less than three days.
Comas Pagan said the initiative would be another production tool and that it would create jobs for the country's farmers and specialists in hydroponics. McDonalds demands 45,000 pounds of iceberg lettuce each month. Once the national producers dominate the production processes, they will be able to market the lettuce to other fast food restaurants that depend on the crop for their menus.
"The Department of Agriculture has promoted 8 greenhouse projects and 73 hydroponic projects investing $5.6 million, some of which could be allocated to this initiative. In the short-term we could replace 5 percent of all the iceberg lettuce that is imported, as it is the equivalent of the entire lettuce used by McDonalds. This in turn would represent half a million dollars in sales for farmers in the first stage " secretary Comas Pagan stated.