From Accountant to Farmer... A Mother Discovers the Joys of Farming
The shift from accounts to farming was not as hard as you might think for Diana Small.
For seven years, she pursued an accounting career at one of the top retailers in The Cayman Islands, but the birth of her first child three years ago, and the changed economic circumstances in those sister islands, prompted her to make a dramatic move.
"After the birth of my daughter, Dihema, I did not want to leave her with anyone. I wanted to spend time with her until she was old enough to attend basic school," Small related. "I returned home to Jamaica, but I needed to work to support my family, so I decided that I would farm."
She had access to land owned by her grandmother in Knapdale, a small community near Brown's Town, St Ann. A cousin, who was in the poultry industry, suggested that she raise chickens. With his encouragement, she built two coops to house 100 broiler chicks as well as 65 layers and quickly started climbing a steep learning curve.
Her biggest initial challenge involved the simple fact that chickens are harvested on a poultry farm. She admits that "when it was time to pluck them, I could not watch because I felt so sad".
She had to learn to overcome that squeamishness and also how to deal with the challenge of transporting eggs using public transportation, which limited the quantities she could carry.
By attending seminars and getting information online, she learnt when chickens reached maturity and that adding more sawdust to the coops for the layers kept the eggs cleaner and reduced their exposure to water.
"My customers loved the fact that the eggs stayed fresh for longer," she said, adding that "supermarkets also became aware that their customers liked the quality of my eggs".
And as the demand for the eggs increased, she invested in more layers, expanding that side of the business.
"I supplied five supermarkets across St Ann and could not meet the demand. Also, my customers paid faster for the egg orders, which were consistent throughout the year," she related.
The increased demand meant that she needed to expand her operations further, but she didn't have the funds to do so. That was when a friend suggested going to JN Small Business Loans (JNSBL).
JN TO THE RESCUE
"They came to my rescue when I needed them most," she said. "The JNSBL officer visited the farm and suggested how many chickens I should buy to meet the demand. And given that 360 eggs could hold in a case, they also recommended how I should pack them for transport.
"The officers provided solid advice about farm management," Small shared. "I developed a good relationship with them."
Gillian Hyde, general manager of JNSBL, pointed out, "Farming can be challenging. The fact that Miss Small has succeeded in establishing a broiler and egg-production operation speaks to her dedication."
"Her drive to expand to meet demand also demonstrates that she is committed to the growth of her enterprise," Hyde stated. "We are here to support such enterprises, whether it is in farming or other business areas."
With four full-time employees and several part-timers currently, Small is part of a vibrant national industry, which Roy Baker, president of the Jamaica Egg Farmers Association (JEFA), says now employs about 3,000 persons directly and another 3,000 indirectly.
Jamaica had 2,000 small and 100 large farmers producing more than 140 million eggs in 2014, meeting the national demand in a sector previously dependent on imported eggs, according to data from the JEFA. Relative to the size of the population, that puts Jamaica as one of the lowest egg-consuming countries in the Americas.
"We are hampered by any depreciation of the dollar because 80 to 85 per cent of the raw material we use is imported," Baker said, adding, however, that "the industry is extremely valuable to the local economy and there is a lot of potential for growth."
A middle-ranked producer, Small now has a production line of more than 2,000 layers and 800 broilers, and despite a challenge with water supplies in Knapdale, has big plans for the decade ahead. She declared, "I want to be able to supply supermarkets across the country and establish a brand based on the freshness of my eggs."
And if you are thinking of becoming a farmer, she says, "I recommend it as a career, but you need to love it because it is hard work."