Several small farmers are struggling to maintain their operations due to low returns as a result of the compact they signed with Government earlier this year.
However, President of the Barbados Egg and Poultry Producers Association (BEPPA) Stephen Layne has assured there will be adequate supplies of local poultry and poultry products to meet Christmas demands.
He explained In an interview with Barbados TODAY that small farmers represented about 40 per cent of the sector and about ten per cent of them were not making any profit. As a result, he said, they were not buying hatching eggs as regularly as before and were producing fewer birds.
Layne said this was impacting hatching egg businesses, but due to a reduction of imported chicken because of the outbreak of bird flu in some international markets, the local industry could not afford to falter.
“Outside of the big conglomerates, they [small farmers] have about 40 per cent of the industry but some of them are still growing. The ones that stopped growing need to get back in because there is a lot of opportunity there because the bird flu in Britain is going to open up the market. We won’t be able to import poultry from those locations that have bird flu because it would damage our local poultry industry. So we will have to have all hands on deck,” he said.
“So I want to encourage them to get back in so in the New Year we would have adequate supplies of mainly broilers. The egg sector should do well and should hold its own. We would be good for Christmas but the opportunity is there to expand the industry, especially with the smaller farmers.
“Some of them weren’t really making the level of income because of the compact that we have with Government; some of them claimed that they were losing money but that comes to an end in February.”
Members of the private sector, including the farming community, signed a compact with Government in July to reduce prices on certain commodities.
Poultry farmers agreed to sell whole chicken, chicken stew, chicken backs and chicken chop mix at lower prices.
Layne said while the small farmers had not pulled out of the sector completely, they were making some changes to how they do business.
“They are not taking up the birds as they did before. For example, every two months or so they would be having a new batch of birds and they are not doing that, they are skipping some time periods in between and about ten per cent of the small farmers are doing that,” he said.
“But we need that ten per cent back in because we may face a situation early in the New Year where the inability to import chicken wings and things like that would impact the supply. We need them while this opportunity is there so we don’t give anybody the chance to make excuses that the industry isn’t doing its best.”
The BEPPA president said local farmers had the capacity to meet all of the island’s demand but imports of some supplies were undermining the sector, forcing farmers to make adjustments to keep their businesses afloat.
“We have the capacity within the sector, in terms of the hatchery and chicken pens, to mitigate against any imports at all but those who still want to import [will do so]. The industry could be compromised because of those imports and it causes some of the same frustrations like we are seeing with the smaller farmers. And when the imports are not there, those same people want to accuse the industry of falling short. But right now the industry will not fall short; we will meet our commitments for Christmas,” Layne said.
He added that the poultry industry did not only consist of farmers but also included other players such as processing plants and feed companies which employed a significant number of Barbadians.
Layne said imports could jeopardise the sustainability of such businesses and impact the nation’s food security.