The Department of Economic Development and Commerce announced the assignment of $7 million to facilitate the recovery and development of hydroponics and aquaponic structures.
Agency Secretary Manuel Laboy explained the money comes from the Puerto Rico Industrial Development Co.’s, (known as PRIDCO,) Special Economic Development Fund.
“I am pleased to announce the start of the hydroponics program, which responds to the need to give a push to redevelop the industry, which was one of the most affected areas in agriculture in the wake of Hurricane María,” Laboy said.
“It’s a very special project because it addresses several immediate needs to increase food production capacity, an extremely important matter for the people of Puerto Rico,” he said.
“And that will open doors to also increase export opportunities and economic development through agriculture,” said Laboy, who also heads PRIDCO
The announcement came as Laboy signed an administrative order during a visit to the Cartinami farm in Lares, to start the hydroponic program to help those farmers, as well as those using aquaponic growth methods, to strengthen the development of their businesses post-storm.
The funds will be allocated as follows: participating farmers will receive a 75 percent refund, up to $300,000, for projects by established farmers looking to rebuild their productive structures or for projects to improve efficiency through automation; while projects by new farmers looking to establish operations will receive a 50 percent refund, up to $250,000, of their investment, Laboy said.
He specified that the incentive may be used as collateral for financing for the planned project and can be combined with federal incentives, but not with incentives from the local Agriculture Department, or its affiliates.
He added that to facilitate the resilience of hydroponics in case of another hurricane, the agency’s project establishes a special $2 per square foot lease rate for the use of PRIDCO-owned buildings to develop hydroponic or aquaponic farming projects. Furthermore, the government’s Renewable Energy Fund will offer farmers alternatives to adopt sustainable infrastructure and improve production costs.
“We recognize the important contribution that this administrative order makes to hydroponic farmers and to the role of agriculture in the island’s economic development,” Agriculture Secretary Carlos Flores said.
“For the department, this initiative is a valuable contribution to the recovery of our producers and the goal we have set, to double local agricultural production,” he added.
According to data gathered from a survey conducted in September by Hidroponistas PR, LLC., hydroponic structures were severely affected by Hurricane María and one year after its passage, only 37 percent have achieved partial recovery of their.
This reduction in production capacity increased the dependence on fresh imported and a reduction in capital for Puerto Rico associated with the lost sales, the survey noted.