Agri-businesses close to collapse, warns BAS

Businesses in the agriculture sector are teetering on the edge as they struggle in the COVID-19 environment and with increasing operational costs, the Barbados Agricultural Society (BAS) boss has warned.

Chief Executive Officer James Paul says that unless sales can generate adequate amounts to pay the overheads that are spiralling out of control, agricultural businesses will go under.

He spoke about his concerns as he delivered his report at the BAS’ Annual General Assembly, on the weekend, noting that other countries have dealt with the issue by providing agricultural entities with the same kind of direct support as that given to the tourism industry.

“During this year, there have been discussions between the Board of the BAS and the Ministry of Agriculture on several matters, including increased costs faced by the farms. One of those is the huge increase in the cost of water and fuel costs. Farming operations have also seen increases in their land taxes. These increases have not been passed on to  consumers in any significant way because the current state of the market simply will not allow it. Hence, farmers are operating on reduced margins and their profits where they existed are being eaten into, along with whatever reserves if any they had built up over the years,” Paul said.

Pointing to the dairy sector where he said operational costs have increased considerably, the BAS chief executive said farmers have been making every effort to return production to the normal levels of six million kilogrammes per year. However, the current monthly production average is 262 191 kilogrammes, which means production is projected to reach just 3.2 million kilogrammes at the end of the year.

“The importation of heifers during this year is a demonstration of such efforts, and it is expected that the full production from the 150 cows imported in May will be felt in this last quarter of 2020. During the period, one farm went out of production and it is expected that the remaining farmers will fill the void that has been left,” Paul said.

However, he continued: “Increases in their water rates, land taxes and the cost of power is likely to play a significant role in determining profitability. There are some farmers who have it so bad that they are likely unable to pay for certain services on time and something has to be done to give them an ease.”

He also called for consideration to be given to giving farmers access to cheaper water.

“Farmers are trying to assist themselves by trying to engage in water harvesting, utilising different methods. They are not sitting on their laurels as some may think. Despite the situation, vegetable production in certain crops has been relatively stable. These include crops such as sweet potatoes, watermelons and pumpkins. However, there is a need to increase the range, variety and consistency of crops planted,” Paul said.

The BAS head also noted that praedial larceny and destruction of crops by monkeys continue to be two major areas of concern.

In the case of the monkeys, he said the numbers need to be reduced, as they are a menace and deterrent to increasing the production of certain crops.

“The bounty can be raised. However, it seems that another issue has arisen where the lack of an incinerator has presented a source of frustration for the bounty hunters. This matter needs to be given urgent consideration, as the absence of a functioning incinerator has implications for not only the cultivators but also the operations of the veterinary laboratory,” Paul said.

“In the case of praedial larceny, the recent suggestion to set up a special unit within the police force to deal with it is welcomed, and the sooner it happens, the better. Too many farms are seeing their livelihoods impacted by these bandits that go on to farmers’ properties to steal their produce.”

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