Nackeshia Tomlinson, Gleaner Writer
St Elizabeth farmer Basil Perriel regards himself as a dying breed. The dairy farmer with 40-acreage and 53 dairy animals told AgroGleaner that he has been in the business for approximately 40 years. When he started operations he was among 11 farmers in his district and 45 in the parish. He said that number has since dwindled, and today only 12 of the original 45 farmers have remained. Of that number, two have indicated their intention to leave the business.
Perriel's entry into the business was influenced by his childhood. "I was brought up on a dairy farm by my father," he recounted. "We used to have 33 cows which we milked by hand, and then my three brothers and myself carried the milk to the milk truck on a donkey named Moses ." This direct exposure to dairy farming, in addition to his training at the Knockalva Agricultural High School, influenced Perriel's entrance into the milk business.
Perriel told AgroGleaner that he produces over 2,000 quarts of A-Grade milk per fortnight which he supplies directly to Nestlé. Assisted by an employee or two, his daily regimen requires that he gets up at 4 a.m. to do the milking. This process is usually completed by 7 a.m. when at that time the washing up of the utensils is also done. He said this procedure is replicated about 1' o clock as milking is done twice per day. The milking is fully automated after which it is stored in a cooling vat and is collected by the truck and kept that way until it reaches the condensary in Bog Walk.
Perriel, who is also the president of the resuscitated cooperative, disclosed that dairy farmers are facing a number of challenges. He said at nights he has to keep the animals in closed areas and watch them to deter thieves.
"Sometimes I have a feed bill of 60-odd thousand dollars per fortnight and a light bill of $42,000 and water charges is (more than) $27,000 per month.," said Perriel. "I feed them on concentrated feed and any roughage; the pastures are limited so I go to the cane fields as the feeding is costly. The production cost/input is going to go up, and we cannot pass it on the farmers."
Perriel pointed out that collectively farmers are affected by high feed and energy cost. He said that they are asked to pay a cess that is collected from milk sales and importation of milk powder. The cess has accumulated to over $20 million and he is calling for portions of it to be given to farmers as a grant so that they can invest in proper nutrition, pasture development and upgraded equipment to increase their output.
Despite the challenges, he has no intention of leaving the business, although several years ago he had attempted to do so. "I was getting rid of the animals and I asked a friend to take a few, but I couldn't sleep the night; I had to go back for the animals and start up again." He noted that he is not doing it for the profits. Having grown up on a farm, he thinks he might live out his days on the farm.