Christopher Serju, Gleaner Writer
Dr Keith Amiel has charged beef farmers to stop cursing their luck, and instead arm themselves with the vision necessary to make the transition into the 21st century, with a view to ensuring sustainability of the cattle industry.
Amiel's comments came during last Thursday's 60th annual general meeting of the Jamaica Red Poll Cattle Breeders' Society at Annandale Farm in St Ann, as Chairman Martin Hopwood lamented the challenges facing cattle farmers.
Citing the combined effects of praedial larceny, recently imposed land tax and challenges from cheap imported beef, Hopwood lamented the significant reduction in the sale of beef cattle.
"The local market in the country towns is very soft, I am told by some butchers that it is taking two butchers to buy one cow," related Hopwood.
"This is a dramatic reduction from just a few years ago when butchers could sell two or three cows, each, per week. However, my concern is that local beef farmers are being squeezed by imports, while at the same time, they are absorbing the increased cost of production."
As Hopwood painted a vivid picture of the negative implications for the country at large, if nothing is done to halt the flow of investors abandoning their farms, he was stopped in his tracks by Dr Amiel.
"Who are you moaning and groaning to? he asked. The reality is that the world is market driven and you have never been market driven," remarked Amiel. "You assume that people will come to your farms and buy your animals at farm gate and do all the work. Why don't you have Red Poll restaurants here? Why doesn't every hotel have Red Poll beef on the menu?"
Advised Amiel: "As the poultry people have done, as the pig people have done, as the egg people have done, get up and market your product and standards!"
Amiel, who is corporate affairs manager of the Caribbean Broilers Group, worked with the four local cattle-breed societies in the capacity of secretary, from the 1970s to 1990s.
Failed to keep up with market
He attributes the ongoing decline in the sale of beef primarily to the failure to keep abreast of the changing dynamics in the marketplace.
Speaking with AgroGleaner afterwards, he explained: "Women have come to be 80 per cent of the people studying at university. They have all gone out to work to help supplement the farmer's income and are not going home to take out a slab of beef (out of the fridge) and chop it up themselves.
So, it's about creating a finished product which is a sirloin steak, a New York strip, a round of roast, a mince or so, ready to eat, and indeed, some of it should be already flavoured and ready to be microwaved. The truth of it is that my colleague beef farmers here have never thought of this ... ."