The dry season in the Caribbean starts in December and ends in May. During this time temperatures are on average 26°C and may at times soar into the high thirties. These long humid days during the dry season poses challenges to agriculture, affecting – crop development, growth and production due to the high probability of heat stress and water stress. Water stress occurs when the demand for water exceeds the available amount during a dry season or when poor quality restricts its use. Especially in the early vegetative stages, these disadvantages can negatively impact photosynthesis, transpiration and root development.
According to Caribbean Agro Climatic Bulletin, most of the Caribbean in December experienced a moderate start to the dry season. This moderate dryness is set to continue as a less intense core of a dry season is expected to affect the Caribbean. Therefore there is a likelihood for a few, more wet days than usual, with the likely exception of The Bahamas, Cayman Islands and Cuba. As rainfalls in the Bahamas and Cayman Islands are predicted to be normal or below normal through the months February to April and drought concerns in Cuba with the high probability for dry spells in its western areas. Despite the minimal chance of excessive rainfall in March there is no significant predictions of major heat discomfort, expected. However, in April heat conditions can become rigid, leading to possible heatwaves in Belize, Cuba, Jamaica and Trinidad.
With the vast majority of the Caribbean predicted to experience a less harsh dry season, the Institute would still like to advise, farmers to make climate smart decisions with respect to on-farm water usage and conservation. Farmers should deploy where possible water conservation strategies to maintain production, such as scheduled drip irrigation systems. Capturing and storing water, planting drought tolerant varieties and applying compost and mulch also improves the soils’ water-holding capacities and conserves moisture. An added advantage of mulching and composting are they enhance soil fertility. Some crops that can tolerate drought conditions are cassava, sweet potato, tomato and beans. However, it is important to note there are critical stages during their growth cycles where water is essential.
For livestock, it is important that the animals have access to clean water and shade is provided in pastures. Forage conservation measures such as silage and hay will also guarantee animals have access to quality forage during the hot, dry days. Farmers can also implement rotational grazing on their pastures as it promotes regrowth and increases the fields’ water absorption and decreases water runoff.