Avia Collinder, Business Reporter
Alexander Archer is a goat farmer in Clarendon who closed his Spanish Town supermarket to invest in agriculture. He borrowed $4 million from the Development Bank of Jamaica (DBJ) in 2006 at 13 per cent interest for seven years, to introduce solar energy on his property and also improve other areas of farm management.
The loan, on which there was a six-month moratorium on payment, is already three-quarters paid-up just four years in, and he has never been late with his payments, Archer claims.
He has invested in producing meat for which the demand is far from filled locally, he states.
The Clarendon farm is a designated breeder unit within the Jamaica Goat Farmers Association (JGFA) whose mission is to increase goat production in Jamaica through modernising and formalising the breeding, rearing, slaughtering, packaging and delivery of goat products.
Products targeted for production include goat sausage, goat burgers, goat ham and a premium goat meat product that's grown under controlled conditions and slaughtered at a young-enough age to deliver a taste and tenderness superior to any New Zealand lamb.
The DBJ money was used by Archer to provide solar power sources for his home in Clarendon where there is no electricity, and pasture fencing for the farm, as well as the construction of goat houses. The farm, comprising 300 acres, has 200 acres fenced in with Hi-Tensile electric fencing powered by solar panels and 12-volt batteries.
The biggest problem with the loan, Archer states was the length of time for processing. It took all of one year, which the framer now describes as 'ridiculous'.
Archer has been rearing goats for 10 years, but invested everything in the farm located in Content Village, five years ago, after closing his supermarket, which was being affected by crime and extortion.
Now the vice-president of the JGFA, he raises goats for meat sale, as well as pure-breds, and claims that the demand for goat meat in Jamaica is only 20 per cent met.
Jamaican goat, he said, is a choice meat locally, but remains scarce because of conditions affecting producers - including high feed costs and praedial larceny, fed in part by the scarcity of the meat and high demand, which the JGFA is trying to change.
"The profitability of goats depends on your resources," he stated.
Feed provided by local grain retailers ranges in cost from $35,000 to $40,000 per ton with one goat eating about two pounds per day. Farmers with too little land for grazing will have higher feed costs.
Feeds can also be supplemented with wheat nibbling (a by-product of flour manufacture), brewers grain or beer trash (a by-product from beer manufacturing at Desnoes and Geddes), and by orange pulp (a by-product from orange factories).
Local farmers rely heavily on orange pulp, but there was a shortage of this in recent times as orange factories cut production in the face of competition from imported juice sources.
The JGFA has some 130 members, Archer notes, but adds that there are thousands of local producers who are being en-couraged to join up for the benefits. The organisation is currently planning the establishment of a central slaughterhouse to "formalise production systems", using an upgraded abattoir at Bodles in St Catherine.
It is also in the process of acquiring refrigerated trucks to transport meat and is working on new packaging and the development of a new distribution network to get quality goat meat to supermarkets and other points of sale.
The new production arrange-ments, Archer says, will improve quality, reduce dependence on the under-the-tree butcher and assure consumers that what they are eating was not been stolen and sold to them.
JGFA also has in the works a new product - slated for a December launch - of goat meat produced under special growing conditions and, which, according to Archer, will be as tender as lamb with less cholesterol, more protein and with the same cuts as lamb. The slogan of the association, he says, is 'The Healthy Red Meat' with a meat which has half the calories of beef, pork and lamb and only 20 per cent of the fat and saturated fat of these other meats. Goat, he stated, also has more protein and iron and is a superfood.
Meanwhile, Archer said goat rearing is profitable with goat meat selling at $160 per pound live weight (unslaughtered) and pure-breds for $50,000 per goat.
He currently has 100 animals in stock. For added revenue, the farmer has also been experimenting with sea-island cotton and grows some onion, scallion and vegetables.
His pure-breds, he states, are used to improve carcase quality on other farms where they are introduced.
Archer also has an interest in exporting pure-breds, noting that there is interest in Jamaican stock from Caribbean islands including Antigua, Haiti and Grenada. In the past, he has been able to send animals to Antigua. Export of the animal is now prevented by the absence of air-freight facilities. He is hoping Caribbean Airlines will remedy the problem soon.
The small farmer notes that he has taken advantage of every training programme offered locally by the Ministry of Agriculture on goat rearing and meat production, including one which is currently being run islandwide. He has also attended training sessions in Texas in the United States. He does research on his own as well.