Bermudez is Livestock Farmer of the Year


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ST. CROIX - Frank Bermudez is no stranger to hard work and most mornings he rises before the sun and can be seen roving the 50 acres in Estate Calquohoun where he is single-handedly raising 40 Senepol cattle.

Bermudez was named Livestock Farmer of the Year by the V.I. Agriculture Department during the opening of the Agriculture and Food Fair of the Virgin Islands on Saturday. He said it is an award that has been a long time coming, one that he accepts with pride for his entire family.

Bermudez is a third-generation farmer who raises Senepol cattle on the same grounds established by his grandfather in the 1930s.

"This is something that is certainly not new to me," Bermudez said. "I was basically born and raised on this farm and my heart beams to know that I am living out the dreams of those who were before me."

The Senepol breed of beef cattle was developed on St. Croix from N'Dama cattle - imported in the late 19th century - by crossing it with Red Poll cattle. The Senepol breed is heat tolerant and insect resistant with a docile nature and provides good meat and high milk production.

Some of Bermudez's herd are being displayed this weekend at the fair.

Bermudez's grandfather moved to St. Croix from an island off Puerto Rico and set up his farm on government land off Midland Road.

Bermudez said his grandfather took joy in planting sugar cane, but also raised cows, goats and horses. When his grandfather grew old, his father took over the farm.

As a boy, Bermudez helped his father take care of the animals by bringing them food and water.

"It came like second nature to me, Bermudez said. "But as I got older, I got into other things and went my own way."

Bermudez said he graduated from Central High School in 1972 and worked for eight years on St. Croix with Hess Oil Corp. before transferring to its New Jersey operations where he continued to work as a chemist for 23 more years.

"I enjoyed it and I would come back and forth over the years," Bermudez said. "But when my dad died, I knew it was time to come back home."

Bermudez returned to St. Croix in 2008 to help his mother on the farm. They worked on improving the look and function of the farm, reinforced the fencing and upgraded the way the farm was managed.

"I was out here digging new fence posts before sunrise and worked by the light of the moon into the night at times, but I knew I had a goal and that was to make this a better farm, one of the best farms," Bermudez said.

Bermudez said he never thought he would have been back on St. Croix farming, but he is glad that he returned. He fought back tears during the awards ceremony Saturday at the fair as he described the sense of satisfaction he has on behalf of his family.

His mother became ill just more than a year ago and was buried last week.

He said one of the biggest struggles is keeping the farmland clean and safe for the animals as he fights against thorny branches of casha trees, fast-growing jojo trees and wire grass.

"Cutting all of this back by hand is hard work and they grow quick and thick," he said. "But I just take it all in stride, one day at a time and see how far we can get."

He said he pumps water from one of two small ponds on the farm into troughs so the animals will have clean water to drink. The ponds also have attracted a few ducks and small turtles that Bermudez loves to watch.

Bermudez loves his animals and many of the cattle have names like "Big Bull and "Anibal" and he knows their story and remembers when many were born.

"I take great care of my animals, they are like my friends for the years that they are here and sometimes it breaks my heart to sell them because I know they will be killed," he said.

He said being a farmer provides a great balance in his life.

"I work hard to ensure the place is clean and the animals are well, but when the sun beats down on me to much and I need a rest, I can sit in a shady area or pull up my hammock and read a book."

He said when the cattle gather around him he feels one with nature, listening to the sounds of the birds and feeling the wind blowing against his face.

His goal is to help keep the farming industry alive and to continue to improve the look and efficiency of his farm.

Looking south to the edge of his farm, Bermudez said he plans to start cutting down some massive trees to create a 10-acre field.

"It's going to take a lot of time, hard work and strength, but I am going to just take it one day at a time," he said. "I can't do more than my body would allow me in one day so I plan to just take it slow. I have my lifetime to get it done, there are no deadlines here."

Bermudez hopes to expand his farm, and he aims to get help from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the V.I. Agriculture Department with machinery that will allow to achieve his goal.

Bermudez encourages everyone to eat local and support farmers.

It takes a lot of work but the rewards are being able to provide a superior product, Bermudez said.

"Whenever you bite into these locally produced meats or even produce, remember the blood, sweat and tears of the farmers that have gone into making it so great," he said.

- Contact reporter Fiona Stokes at 714-9149 or email fstokes@dailynews.vi.

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