View Full Version : 'I felt like I was going nowhere'

01-28-2007, 04:08 PM
'I felt like I was going nowhere'
Farmer dumps dairy, now making one last try at beef production
BY INGRID BROWN Sunday Observer staff reporter
Sunday, January 28, 2007

Having grown up on a cattle farm in Santa Cruz, St Elizabeth, Collin Wright had one dream - to be one of the biggest dairy and beef farmers in Jamaica. When he was 10 years old, his father's friends put money together to buy him a bull, the first step in a lifetime venture that saw him owning close to 600 heads of cattle at one time.

WRIGHT. we are soon going to have a shortage of milk in Jamaica and people won't be able to afford milk powder just because of the short-sightedness of what happened in the '90s
But only a few weeks ago, Wright had to make the decision to shut down his dairy operation and sell more than 300 heads of cattle in a bid to scrape together enough capital to sustain his remaining 200 heads of beef cattle.
It wasn't an easy decision. But Wright said he had no choice, given that he had failed to secure a loan being offered at Scotia Bank for small farmers. This, he explained, was further compounded by the fact that he, like many other dairy farmers, was no longer able to compete with imported milk powder.

"I think I am known as one of the most courageous farmers in Jamaica, and so when I decided to throw in the towel in dairy it took a lot of consideration," he told the Sunday Observer from his farm in Ramble, Hanover. "It was very hard to do it, but I felt like I was going nowhere."

Now, he said, he is making one last attempt at survival in the industry by resuscitating the pastures on his 376 acres of land to focus solely on beef production which, he hopes, will return to what it was before the 1990s.
He can't help but reminisce on what it was 49 years ago when he started his first job at a farm which had more than 5,000 heads of cattle with 150 heads being slaughtered weekly.

"We had no problems then, because beef was needed to supply the hotels and there were no talks of beef importation," he recalled.
During the 1970s, the cattle industry started opening up to small farmers as the Government began acquiring farm lands and leasing them. Today, small farmers account for 60 per cent of the industry, according to Wright.
He said that during the late 1980s, the dairy sector flourished as a result of a duty which was imposed on imported milk powder between 1987 and 1991.

"A duty regime of 100 per cent was put on milk powder, which put the price of locally produced milk and milk powder on par," he said.
The industry, he noted, grew rapidly because everybody wanted to buy fresh milk then. "That was the best thing to have happened to the industry in 50 years," said Wright.
But that sweet deal was short-lived as the duty was lifted in the early 1990s, plunging the industry into decline which, according to Wright, it has not been able to recover from since.

He lamented the demise of the Cornwall Dairy plant in Montpelier, a small processing plant for Long Life milk, noting that if it was still in operation dairy farmers would have been guaranteed a steady market for milk.
He said the Cornwall Dairy plant was the first Long Life milk processing plant in the Caribbean and that it was owned by small farmers.
"But it wasn't accepted by the big milk processors because they realised it was owned by small farmers, and they felt it would control the market," he told the Sunday Observer.
Long Life milk, he added, had the potential to capture a large portion of the market as many persons did not have electricity, especially in the rural areas.

"The regular pasteurised milk could not stand up against the Long Life," he said. "Persons with no refrigerator could buy six half-pint boxes, and since it has a shelf life of up to three months, they could have fresh milk to drink every morning."

But following the demise of the plant, Wright said cattle farmers had to settle for what price they could get from milk processors.
Wright, describing the situation faced by the farmers at the time, said "milk powder was just let out on us like wild dogs".

He explained that he would supply milk to the Government's School Feeding Programme, however when schools were out he had to settle for a reduction in price so as not to have to dump the milk.
During that time, Wright said he had no choice but to sell the milk to Nestlé Limited at $13 per litre instead of the $18 he would get for it in the School Feeding Programme.

"They paid us $5 less for the milk because they said they could get milk powder for that price so why buy the milk at a higher price," he said.
Between 1997 and 2001 the price of milk held steady at $22.14 per litre. However, according to Wright, the price dropped to $18 a litre instead of increasing as expected.
And with milk powder gaining popularity rapidly on the world market in the last three years, Wright said it is predicted that milk powder will become more expensive than local milk.

"We are soon going to have a shortage of milk in Jamaica and people won't be able to afford milk powder just because of the short-sightedness of what happened in the '90s," he said.
According to the Beef and Dairy Producers Association of Jamaica (BDPAJ), milk production has been declining since 1992 when it peaked at 38.8 million litres. By 2005, it had slumped to an all-time low of 14.5 million litres.

But even as Wright gets out of dairy and remains in beef production, he is equally cautious that if it is not handled properly the local beef producers could find themselves in a similar situation as they did four years ago.
Cause for concern, he said, is that imported beef, if not monitored, could drive the industry back into the hole it is only now just pulling itself from.
"At one point there was a 120 per cent duty on imported beef, and this was later dropped to 40 per cent, and so people found it cheaper to buy imported beef and that was the beginning of the decline of the industry," he told the Sunday Observer.

The situation of the mid-90s, he added, got to a stage where no one wanted to buy local beef, with some farmers having to abandon their cattle on the streets.

"The cow was the Jamaican farmer's bank, because if you had a sick or any emergency you could make a decision in the morning and by evening you could sell a cow and have the money," said Wright.
He pointed out that it was only his 'know how' experience that kept his herd from dwindling to zero, like many other farmers during this 'dry' period.
"I had to continue buying cattle and selling what little I could for what I could get for it," he said.

Prior to 1996, farmers, he said, were paid approximately $18 per pound for live meat. This, however, declined to a low of $7 to $10 per pound.
With farmers unable to get their cattle sold, Wright said the herds started increasing drastically.
"Some farmers were only able to sell three to four cows for the year, while some couldn't sell one for three years," he said, adding that he was saved only because he was a supplier for Jamaica Broilers at the time.
Wright insisted that he was not exaggerating when he said some persons could not afford to buy rope to tie the cows because they weren't being sold and as such they were just let loose to wander the plains.

However, by September 2003, a ban was placed on imported beef as a result of the mad cow disease outbreak in Europe and the USA. But this had a double effect on the farmers in that while they were finally able to sell their herds they were still unable to demand a high price because there was so much to be sold.

"It took some time before the price could be increased because the cows were just let loose, and some people just wanted to get rid of the large amount and so they took what they could get for it," he explained.
He said in the rush to get rid of the pile-up of stock, many farmers sold their cows, not thinking long term that they would be needed for breeding. Also, the females were sold at a cheaper cost, hence they were in higher demand.

"Before mad cow disease, consumers were able to buy imported trimmings at a cheap price, so the butchers who were slaughtering in Jamaica had to buy the cheaper cattle, which were the females," he explained.
Now, he said, the price of cows is $60 per pound live weight, compared to prior to 1996 when they were being sold for $7 to $12 per pound. Weaners and 'stockers' are also being sold for $60 to $65 per pound live weight, compared to the previous $18 per pound.

Wright, while optimistic about the future of the industry, has one burning concern - praedial larceny, which, he said, has been increasing in the western end of the island.
If it is not dealt with, he insisted, it will further drive him and his colleagues out of business.

"There have been incidents where persons have moved 40 heads of cattle in one night," said Wright. "Now, that would have to be two or three trucks, and yet they drive out of the district and were never stopped by the police."

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01-28-2007, 04:13 PM
Quote: it was owned by small farmers.
"But it wasn't accepted by the big milk processors because they realised it was owned by small farmers,

As I have stated time and time again,the big business does al lot more to destroy the economy,by their action to destroy small businesses,that will make press. the reason is they own the press,they pay for the ads and they finance election campaigns. According to the golden rule,the one who controls the gold make the rules....and their rules is to suppress the mases with all means necessARY,EVEN IF THE COUNTRY LOSE IN THE PROCESS. AS A MATTER OF FACT THIS ALWAYS RESULT IN GREATER LOSS TO THE COUNTRY,DUE TO TH EMULTIPLIER EFFECT.