Jamaica Gleaner Online TODAY'S ISSUE
Jan 2, 2000

Beef industry needs urgent improvements

JAMAICA'S BEEF industry has been a factor of the country's economic life for hundreds of years and investors in the sector believe that "the economics of the industry is still sound enough" to make them confident that beef cattle farming will continue to be an important part of Jamaica's future.

This is despite the scaling-down that has occurred as a result of rationalisation within the industry, as well as challenges to the industry not only from imports, but from the generally 'fragmented nature' of the local market. According to Ian Parsard, managing director of the Jamaica Broilers Group subsidiary Content Agricultural Products - which is the industry leader with 15 per cent of the beef market the number of butchers who sell one carcass a week makes it difficult to realise economies of scale.

"The closest other single competitor to Content has five per cent or less market share and the level of fragmentation that this indicates negatively impacts the industry's cost structure," he says.

He adds that the following data underscores the difficulty that small countries, such as Jamaica, will have competing with the huge efficiencies realised in developed countries:

  • Even as the single largest producer of beef in Jamaica, Content Agricultural Products' annual production through its processing facility is what a typical beef plant in the USA would do in two days.

  • The cost in Jamaica of inputs such as electricity and security are 'off the scale' when compared with the cost of such inputs in the USA.

  • Unlike the Jamaican situation, beef production in the USA and Europe is subsidised. "If those subsidies were removed, there would be some equity in the marketplace," Mr. Parsard says.

    Nonetheless, he believes that Jamaica must strive to reverse the negatives for several important reasons.

    Firstly, beef is virtually the only truly indigenous vegetable-to-animal protein that Jamaica produces - with 90 per cent of inputs that go into producing a pound of beef being Jamaican. "This is so when viewed within the context that even the genetics that we have in the Jamaica Red Poll, Jamaica Black and Jamaica Brahman were developed by Jamaican scientists - notably Dr. T.P. Lecky," he says.

    Another plus is the fact that the land on which farmers grow beef cattle is marginal land which could be put to no other productive use. "The fact is thatno crops can be grown on such land, and the only other ruminant livestock that could survive on that type of land - the goat - is not part of an industry that is large enough to utilise all of the land currently used in beef cattle production," Mr. Parsard says.

    Imported hamburgers

    If the industry is therefore so critical to the country's economic life, how does it propose to optimise returns from the sector?

    Mr. Parsard believes that the industry must, by latest 2003, implement several changes at the farm operation, feed lot operation, slaughter operations and marketing levels if the future viability of the industry is to be assured. The three-year time frame is directly related to the action taken by Government to increase the duty on imported hamburgers from 40 per cent back to 86 per cent.

    "The industry is under the impression that the action will continue to be in place until 2003 and we must therefore, within that time, do all that is necessary to ensure that the industry is readied to compete on a global scale," Mr. Parsard says.

    He points out that Content Agricultural Products made a start in 1998 towards its own preparations via the re-organisation of its operation, and this has already resulted in a return to "a modest level of profitability". However, by the end of December 1999 and onwards into the 1999/2000 financial year, the Group is expected to begin seeing the positive financial effects of a major technology-enhanced programme it introduced during the company's 1998/99 financial year - the Stocker Programme for Heifers.

    Under this programme, the productivity performance of the heifers is expected to be significantly better - realising a 20 per cent increase in average daily weight gain over the historical one kilo per day. This will, in turn, lead to a lowering in production cost and an increased ability to compete more effectively against imported beef.

    Implemented at the Murphy Hill property operated by Jamaica Poultry Breeders - another Jamaica Broilers Group subsidiary and Content's joint venture partner in this project - the Stocker Programme for Heifers represents a fundamental change in the way that Content has been fattening beef cattle since it began operations in 1982.

    Traditionally, Content has purchased weaners - calves that are just coming off the mother - and brought them immediately into the feed lot. "We are now implementing a production system which is accepted internationally as being more efficient and provides greater returns," Mr. Parsard says.

    Under the Stocker Programme, calves that are weaned from the mother are now put into a back-grounding/Stocker Programme that allows the animals a period of adjustment and to grow out the proper skeleton structure that will allow them to put on muscle easily. This is done on the cheapest possible type of nutrition - grass - prior to their being brought into the Content feed lot, and fed a specially-developed commercial ration to optimise growth. Six hundred and fifty head of cattle are currently part of the programme.

    But the company executive also emphasises that it is critical for technological enhancements to be brought to the way that beef cattle is reared in Jamaica. And again, Content Agricultural Products has been setting the industry standard by implementing changes in its operations that have resulted not only in the company being described as "one that is as technology advanced as anywhere in the world, despite its relatively small size," but have given the company the ability to "feed cattle cheaper in our feed lots than they do in the USA," Mr. Parsard says.

    The principal technology being utilised is a patented system called "biofermentation" that allows Content to speed up the process of composting and to extract, from several locally-derived by- products, valuable nutrients that go into feeding cattle. Mr. Parsard explains that, through the use of biofermentation, Content is able to utilise citrus pulp from the citrus industry, brewers grain from D& G, reject green bananas from the banana producers, as well as corn offal from the corn-meal industry and wheat middlings from the flour industry. "It is the combination of being able to use these by-products and converting them via biofermentation into the necessary nutrients that allows us to feed cattle cheaper in Jamaica than in the USA," he says.


    The fact is, he adds, that all players in the industry need to employ strategies that will enhance their efficiency, and must support this with effective marketing of their product. He cites as critical elements in that process the need for producers to become generally more scientific in the way they grow animals - with an improvement in the genetic stock, excellent record-keeping, and strategies to move the industry towards greater integration that will help them realise the attendant benefits of an integrated system.

    According to him: "The industry needs to acknowledge that better animals will produce better revenues. Additionally, an effective social partnership with the farmers must be put in place to facilitate the interchange and exchange of data between the various segments that make up the industry, so that the history and productive performance of each animal can be traced throughout the feed lot and on to the processing facility prior to marketing.

    If, for example, an animal performs inefficiently at the feedlot, we can identify the problem and pass this on to the farmer so that changes can be made at his end. Such availability of information will allow for adjustments to be made to improve the product, and enhance efficiencies and the industry as a whole."

    Mr. Parsard also acknowledges, however, that this type of development will require a change not only in attitude but in operating practices throughout the industry.

    (NOTE: Taken from Saturday's Gleaner)

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