Sugar has been an ideal crop for Barbados. White gold as it was called, produced great wealth, fame and stature for the island and the original plantation owners, and was in many ways suited to the island. It made good sense to grow sugar economically and horticulturally as its root structure helped to preserve the fragile top soil.
There are 1,500 small farms throughout Barbados which can produce some 60,000 tons of sugar annually.
Yields of sugar per acre are below average in Barbados compared to some other islands like Cuba. Poor mechanization and dry seasons are to blame for this. Most of the 30,000 acres being used for sugar farming in Barbados are relatively small farms of 200 acres on average. To properly benefit from mechanization a farm should be not less than 700 acres. In addition few farms in Barbados are on flat land, and the hilly terrain is not the best for mechanization. This was not a problem in the old days when manual labour was the only form of harvesting, but as other regions have benefited from mechanization, Barbados has not.
To find about more about the history of sugar production in Barbados, visit the Sugar Museum.
Agriculture And Soil Preservation
Sugar cane planting has been modified over the centuries to help preserve the fragile top soil from erosion, but soil erosion continues to be a problem in many parts of the island particularly on the east coast. Sugar grows tall, its fibrous roots spread out and help to bind the thin layer of soil, a mixture of volcanic ash and sands, deposited over the years by winds bringing seeds, and ash and flora from neighbouring islands and distant lands. In recent times, Dr. Colin Hudson measured 6 tons per Acre of ash deposited in a single field as a result of volcanic activity. Some say up to 30 tons per acre have been clocked. The Coral Island of Barbados, pushed out of the sea millions of years ago, owes much to the active volcanoes in the region.
In the old days plantation owners grew other crops between the rows of tall sugar canes. The fields were edged with ditches so that water and earth running off collected and was not lost. The practice still exists for many crops.