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Farmers ‘deeply troubled’ at closure

  • The clock is ticking: dairy cows and other livestock at Westover Farm. The property is soon to return to the Bermuda Government after being run by the Bascome family since the 1960s (Photograph by Jonathan Bell)
  • The clock is ticking: Richard Bascome at Westover Farm in Sandys (Photograph by Jonathan Bell)

The Bermuda Farmers Association urged the Government yesterday to ditch its plan to remove West End farmers from their land amid concerns over the island’s dwindling farming industry.

The association claimed less than 400 acres is now being farmed across the island, down from 3,000 during agriculture’s peak years.

It said it was “deeply troubled” by the Government’s plan to order the Bascome family, which has operated Westover Farm in Sandys since the 1960s, to quit the land by December 1.

It called for the family to instead be given a secure lease, allowing them to upgrade, and added that a working farm would present an attraction at the West End.

“We are deeply troubled by the Government giving Westover Farms six months’ notice to vacate their farm,” the group said. “This farm produces not only approximately 25 per cent of milk for our island, but also food crops as well.

“This farm has been run by the Bascome family for over 50 years. It is iconic in the Somerset area, well respected, visited by school groups and tourists alike.”

The Government has yet to comment on its intentions for the property. Under the Bermuda Agricultural Strategy 2016, domestic crop production was to be promoted for “greater food security, increased employment and preservation of a historically important industry”.

The association argued that objective “flies in the face of the Government kicking the Bascomes off the farm”.

It said: “During the last 60 years, a significant proportion of prime agriculture land has been lost to tourism and residential development.

“At its peak, Bermuda was farming some 3,000 acres.

“Today there are only 738 acres of protected arable reserve, and of that approximately 50 per cent is being farmed.

“The Bermuda Farmers Association is very concerned about the loss of these seven acres that are in production. These acres will never be regained.

“What are the plans for the farm? If the PLP government believe in what they say, they will invest in our industry and help us produce more local food.”

Richard Bascome Jr and his son, also Richard, contacted The Royal Gazette over the matter last month.

While the farmers’ lease expired 18 months ago on the Government-owned land, the family called the short notice to leave “ludicrous” and said nothing further had been communicated.

In response, public works minister Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch announced on June 29 that he was “happy” to discuss the matter with the Bascomes.

Colonel Burch added that he had opted to wait after being notified that the Bascomes were seeking legal advice on the matter.

But the Bascomes said they were far from being the only farmers whose leases had lapsed — and the farmers association claimed that “all land leases for all government-owned farm lands have still not been renewed, despite continuous efforts by farmers for more than three years”.

The farm runs a slaughterhouse and vegetable garden, and locals from across the island call there on Fridays and Saturdays for produce.

The association quoted from the ruling Progressive Labour Party’s 2017 election platform, which pledged to make use of arable government land to boost domestic food production, with the aim of modernising equipment and raising profits.

The farmers association, which said the leases had expired under the previous One Bermuda Alliance administration, asked why farmers’ leases had not been updated under the new government — adding: “Certainly Mr Bascome would love to modernise his equipment, but how could he given he has no lease security?”

Mr Bascome, whose father is 83, previously acknowledged that the Government owned the land and was within its rights to reclaim it — but bemoaned the loss of food-producing land.

Over the weekend, Mr Bascome Jr said the family had yet to meet with the minister.

The farm adjoins the obsolete 9 Beaches resort, which the Bermuda Land Development Company is seeking to revamp. The association asked whether the two might “coexist side-by-side”.

The Royal Gazette has asked the Bermuda Government for comment but received no response so far.