Sun | Sep 24, 2017

Editorial | Why Dr Lecky would groan

Published:Thursday | May 25, 2017 | 5:00 AM

A significant, but little noted, positive corollary to Agriculture Minister Karl Samuda's inelegant handling of the conflict-of-interest controversy over the Jamaica Dairy Development Board (JDDB) planting of grass on his private farm is a plan by Trade Winds Citrus, the domestic juice company, to go into dairy production.

This is not the relatively well-ventilated matter of the planned line extension into milk-based drinks, using imported milk powder, for which they were initially denied import licences, which allegedly contributed to JDDB Chief Executive Officer Hugh Graham losing his job for insisting on the regulations.

They are actually going to raise cows. According to Trade Wind's boss, Peter McConnell, the company will start with 100 head of cattle and eventually grow the herd to 2,500 to meet the milk requirement of its production lines.

 

Good for Jamaica

 

That, in any respect, is good for Jamaica, which currently imports around 80 per cent of the milk solid consumed locally. Jamaica, obviously, doesn't produce enough of the stuff to meet demand. In fact, over the past quarter- century, domestic milk production, for myriad reasons, has tumbled almost 70 per cent, to around 12 million litres annually.

Dairy herds, a combined 30,000 cows, are 60 per cent less than what they used to be. Which brings us to an issue that seems to continually plague Jamaica: our apparent inability to maintain things on which taxpayers have spent heavily as well as our apparent lack of focus surprising for these times on research and development.

It transpires that Trade Winds, of which the Wisynco Group is an equity partner, is to get a start on its dairy herd from Costa Rica. Its officials have visited that country, accompanied by Jamaican government agricultural officials, about sourcing embryos of a not-yet-disclosed breed.

We can almost hear the painful groan from the grave of Thomas P. Lecky. Dr Lecky was an animal geneticist of great renown, whose work is recognised and praised at agricultural and dairy institutes around the world. Among the things for which he is credited is the development, during the 1950s and '60s, of the Jamaica Hope, a recognised breed from a cross between the Jersey, Zebu and Holstein.

The Hope is a milk cow, which, for Jamaica, has the important characteristics of being tolerant to heat, being resistant to ticks and tick-borne diseases, while being able to produce good volumes of milk despite feeding in poor tropical pastures. Work on breeding a milk cow so adaptive to the Jamaican environment began over a century ago, but accelerated and reached fruition under Dr Lecky's genius at what was a scientifically vibrant, but now run-down and limping Bodles Agricultural Research Station in St Catherine. That period also saw the development of the Jamaica Brahman, the Jamaica Black and the Jamaica Red Poll beef cattle that are also decent milkers.

Unfortunately, these breeds, if not terminally imperilled, face grave danger. Three years ago, animal geneticist Ken Wellington sounded a bleak warning. He said: "I think the Jamaica Black is almost at the point of no return. The attributes of the other breeds for quality, early maturity, and so on, are still there, but we have less than 500 breeding females in the registered herds."

He added: "The Jamaica Hope numbers have gone to the extent that the breed is threatened because there are just about four or five reasonable herds in the country."

It is not clear what has happened since then, but it is obvious that there is need for much work. We might just get Jamaica Hope or some Jamaica Black from Costa Rica.