Ongoing drought conditions in Barbados are threatening to dry up the struggling dairy industry.
While the Barbados Water Authority (BWA) has said it is doing what it can to help ease farmers who face periodic water shortages, officials of the Barbados Beef and Dairy Producers Association fear the quality of their product could fall if drought conditions do not end soon.
“The Barbados Water Authority has been very kind. They have not done anything in particular to affect us, so we do not suffer extended shortage. So that is not a problem for us, but the drought is a problem in the forage and the grass,” said association president Annette Beckett.
“Without the water to wet the grass, preferably rain water, you have a severe problem with forage. It is not good because it is not fertilized properly and this can lead to an impact on the production of the milk and the solids, because the solids are an important factor in the milk for us.”
The island has been experiencing bouts of drought conditions since the start of the year, and despite entering the rainy season about three months ago the amount of rainfall between June and October is expected to be lower than normal and could further negatively impact the island.
Beckett explained that one cow required at least 30 gallons of water per day, along with quality feed in order to produce equally good quality milk.
She said the lack of adequate rainwater was having a negative impact on production levels.
“So if you do the maths, you see how much water is required to run a farm. So the drought situation is already a problem. Most of the farms already water harvest. Unless the rain is falling you cannot water harvest,” Beckett said.
Meanwhile, vice president of the association Brian Allan expressed concern that already struggling farmers could suffer a further drop in business if the situation did not improve soon.
The industry has dwindled from about 39 dairy farmers up to six years ago, to only about 16 at present. One farmer went out of business at the end of last year.
“We have to check but there has definitely been a drop [in production] on most of the farms because of the lack of forage. Also affecting our milk check is the low solids. If you don’t have proper forage the solids in the milk drop and we are paid by the solids. So we would get a deduction every month because of the low forage,” Allan explained.
He said the Garbage and Sewage Contribution (GSC) levy was not making it any easier for the farmers who were already faced with high operating costs.
“So that combined with the increased water price has put a very tenuous situation with the diary farmers’ finances. You have to put more feed to make up for the lack of forage. You are getting quality deductions because of lower quality milk and then on top of that you have a huge water bill. So it is really a perfect storm for the dairy farmers at the moment,” Allan said.
Despite the challenges, he said farmers were doing what they could to maintain production levels.
“The farmers work together. Everything affects every farmer the same way,” said the 31-year industry operator.