Christopher Serju, Gleaner Writer
THE DECISION by four astute businessmen to invest in the production of lamb and other valued-added products marketed under the VIP Meats brand is set to pay off in a big way.
On a recent visit to Donnie Bunting's farm in Longville Park, Clarendon, AgroGleaner received some insight into the company's marketing plan.
Since starting operations with a herd of local St Elizabeth sheep and some imported Doper rams to improve the breeding stock, the company has been providing high-end lamb cuts to select clients and value-added products such as ham, burgers and sausages, the company is looking to corner a very lucrative market.
"I don't have the figures for this year, but last year, $1 billion worth of lamb was imported. In terms of mutton, several billion dollars was also imported," he disclosed. Michael Pryce of the ministry of agriculture and fisheries confirmed the yawning demand for goat and sheep meat.
He disclosed that for goat meat, including offal (head, tripe, liver, etc.) the figure imported last year was 1,291 kilogrammes with a value of US$5.15 million. Some US$4.6 million worth of mutton or 956,000 kilogrammes was imported over the same period, with the 207,000 kilogrammes of imported lamb valued at US$0.99 million.
With this massive total demand of some 2,454,000 kilogrammes of meat from these two small ruminants, with an estimated combined value of US$10,744,000 each year, the market is wide open for a number of Jamaican farmers to access, according to Bunting. However, he believes that too many farmers are still not taking the necessary business approach to their agricultural enterprises.
He explained that in most First-World countries it is only the lamb which is eaten, with mutton treated as a low-end product and dumped in countries such as Jamaica. "After a female (ewe) has been breeding for say six years or more they cull that female and the meat is sold to Third-World countries like us."
Over time, as the local sheep population grows, Jamaica will have the spin-off of more mature females which may be culled and sold as low-price meat, the animal by this time already having paid for itself many times over.
He noted that some customers, having enjoyed the tenderness of their corn-fed lamb that are slaughtered at five months old, will ask 'Why you don't grow them bigger and sell mutton?'
That he has spent a lot of time ruminating the matter is evident from Bunting's approach to sheep farming, which comes out in his reasoning on the matter.
The businessman explained that to produce mutton you first need to breed them, because of the price differential which sees mutton selling for one sixth the price of lamb on the local market. For this reason it is impractical to rear the animal to the adult stage, without breeding it, for the sole purpose of selling it as meat.
With this approach, local farmers would be unable to compete with imported mutton which is the carcass of ewes that have produced lambs whose meat is sold at exorbitant prices. Having so much money from the offspring of these female sheep the owner could, for all practical purposes, give away these carcasses and still turn a handsome profit.
The first president of the Jamaica Sheep Farmers Association is optimistic that local farmers will get it right in time to benefit from this multimillion-dollar industry. In the meantime, he is available and willing to share his expertise with those who are serious about treating it as a business.