Dairy farms are in a very fragile state, veteran dairy producer Paul Davis declared today, suggesting that a once-thriving industry struggles against a slew of issues.
Now he and other milk producers are pinning their hopes on Argentina, one of the world’s biggest dairy-producing nations to come to their rescue.
Davis blamed a declining national herd count, poor nutrition, drought and a lack of access to modern technology for the struggles facing farms across the island.
The dairy producer raised the issues in a virtual meeting of the Argentina-Barbados Milk Sector Table Cooperation. He said many dairy farmers are also facing cash problems since many of them are owed VAT [Value Added Tax] refunds.
Davis said the dairy industry was affected by the recession between 2011 and 2012 because customers’ spending power were weakened.
He said that reality was followed by a difficulty to increase the national herd size because the required resources are not available on the island, or within the Caribbean.
Davis, the owner of Walkers Dairy Farms, explained that dairy farms must replace 20 per cent of their herd every year or risk having older cows that develop health conditions and do not produce as much as is required.
He further explained that while there are some farms that replaced their own heifers, other farmers are finding it difficult to accomplish this task due to the genetics and nutrition of the animals among other factors.
Davis said: “Some farmers would have had to take a more expensive route and import animals from the US [United States]. So we have had two or three shipments of animals over the last four years. Our milk production last year was about 3.5 million litres.
“So we are in the process of trying to rebuild the national herd, but as a result of the economic crisis and the COVID-19 crisis, we also have a cash problem because lots of us are owed VAT refunds. So we actually are in a very fragile state at this time.
“A lot of farmers would definitely benefit from better record keeping because you have to have targets in place and you have to be able to measure what you are doing constantly.
“You have to measure your milk production, how many calves the cow has, how old the cow is, all of these things are very critical. It is a complete situation where we have to manage the pennies and once you manage the pennies you will get the pounds.”
Barbados is working with Argentina to form technical cooperation and trade links between the two countries’ dairy value chains.
Davis said Argentina’s assistance was needed to help the local dairy industry recover.
Other members of the dairy industry also related their concerns to Argentina’s Ambassador to Barbados Gustavo Martinez Pandiani. He announced the dairy and cattle powerhouse is to work with Barbadian farmers and dairies.
As a second phase, a group of Barbadian milk producers is to visit Argentina’s famous milk plants in Santa Fe province.
Ambassador Pandiani told Minister of Agriculture and Food Security Indar Weir that his country wants to help the sector facing many challenges through technical cooperation and technology transfer.
“We just want to humbly offer our expertise in this field,” Pandiani said.
Chief Executive Officer of the Barbados Agricultural Society (BAS) James Paul, who also attended the virtual meeting, noted that it is now left to farmers to take advantage of the assistance to improve their operations.
“We need to address the issues along the supply chain to try to ensure that we can get greater efficiency and also for greater coordination between the various actors along that supply chain,” Paul said.