IN AN effort to boost interest in the dairy industry and milk production, which has fallen significantly over the last three decades, Nestle has funded an almost $750,000 (US$110,000) model farm in Turure, near Sangre Grande giving the cows a life of comfort.
Nestle, the Switzerland-based corporation, selected the Amoroso family-run farm which has been supplying milk to the company since the 70’s to construct the facility.
The model farm was described as a spa for cows by Josue De La Maza Nestle’s head of marketing for the Anglo-Dutch Caribbean region. This is because the Holstein-Friesian cows – which will be sourced with Nestle’s assistance – will spend part of the day grazing in an open field and the other part in pens equipped with fans and showers for the cows’ comfort.
De La Maza said Holstein-Friesian cows, which are bred in Holland, were specially selected for their genetic lineage and they will be fed a new feed varieties which includes mestizo grass, corn and other high-quality grasses. All of these will also be grown on the farm making it a self-sustaining circular system.
With this model, there is expected to be a higher milk production from fewer cows thereby reducing the dairy carbon footprint. De La Maza said this is because the cows will be stress-free which gets them to produce more.
This new model farm is also meant to boost local dairy production by showcasing the new technologies and strategies that are now being used for dairy production to potential dairy farmers.
The local dairy industry has been on a decline and De La Maza noted that there has been a 91 per cent decline in yearly fresh milk production over the past 30 years with an 88 per cent decline in the number of farmers.
When asked about the reasons for the decline, De La Maza said, “The truth is it has to do with generations. You see an example here of a family that had this, this generational change where the sons and daughters are taking care of the farm, but unfortunately, this is not happening elsewhere. So many of the farms, they have not had this generational change.”
The other aspect is the business behind it. It's hard work, so the cost benefit may be high. That's why it's important to do it in the right way. It's important to have the right practises so that we have better yield per cow.”
Farm operator Lucy Torres said the pens were constructed in two months and she intends to use a significant portion of her 19-acre farm to plant corn, pumpkin and watermelon to supplement her income. The corn and special grass she plans to grow will be used to make silage – a mixture of molasses, rock salt and chipped corn trees – to feed the animals as grain was scare owing to the war in Ukraine.
Farmers are also plagued with issues such as praedial larceny, high cost of feed, diseases, delays in the renewal of leases for farms, which can be used as collateral to invest, among other factors. Many dairy farmers have also opted to sell their milk to Venezuelans living in TT who are making white cheese and yoghurt, a delicacy among migrants.
Randall Karim, deputy permanent secretary of the Ministry of Industry and Trade, said between 2018 and 2022, TT had imported $330 million in milk.
Karim said, “On the export side, the figures are much lower." He gave examples of exports totalling $28 million and as low as $4.6 million.
De La Maza said, “We need to defend food security here and it's not our governments that will do it alone, it's all of our institutions that proudly produce here in TT. We have a factory, we give employment, we pay taxes, we are here, and we have roots on the ground we're standing firm. We want to stand for another hundred years and we need to act.”
He said he hopes this is the first step of many that will keep boosting local dairy production. He added that Nestle plans to continue working on projects like these with the help of other institutions.
Minister in the Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries Avinash Singh said such projects can help Caricom achieve its goal of reducing the food import bill by 25 per cent by 2025. Singh also gave his commitment on behalf of the line minister Kazim Hosein to look deeper into the dairy farming industry.
“Nestle is directly impacting the ability of our local dairy farmers to increase milk production levels and ensuring the necessary quality requirements. This can reduce our dependency on imports and create a more self-sufficient region which then results in reduced cost of living for citizens and improve the economic prospects of our region.”
Nestle usually buys bulk milk at $2.35 per litre and dairy farmers get a subsidy of $1.50 per litre from the state.
As for government support within the dairy industry, Singh said, “We have already started to make steps in that avenue. We’ve created a new grant funding facility and farms such as these, the Amoroso’s, those are very much entitled to qualify and apply to get that additional push of financial support.”
De La Maza said at this time, Nestle will not be launching any similar farms soon but plans to offer support to help dairy farmers boost local production. He said Nestle is also looking at working with educational institutions to educate farmers in dairy production and create change for the industry.