PHD and farmers agree: No milk price increase

PHD and farmers’ representatives at the head table addressing farmers.
PHD and farmers’ representatives at the head table addressing farmers.

Barbadian dairy farmers and the Pine Hill Dairy have reached an agreement that will spare local consumers increased milk prices. It means, however, that both the PHD and milk producers will have to contend with more financial pain in the coming months.

This was announced in a joint statement this evening following a lengthy meeting today between dairy farmers and PHD representatives, the central aim of which was to maintain the current price of white milk to the buying public.

In an effort to ensure consumers do not have to pay more for local milk, the two sides have agreed to cuts for two months.

While PHD will continue to absorb increases in the cost of processing, the 15 dairy farmers present at today’s talks and the Farmer’s Representative Committee agreed to temporarily reduce the farm gate price on milk until April 30.

The dairy also said it would hold off on additional quota reductions to farmers until the end of this year, and also to purchase the excess milk produced by dairy farms up to a limit of five per cent of the revised quota.

During the two-month period, the two sides have also agreed to continue to aggressively pursue acceptance of a suitable industry assistance plan to be readied for implementation as early as possible after April 30.

The temporary agreement comes as the PHD continued to record a loss on each carton of white milk it sold, something CEO Richard Cozier called “absolutely unsustainable”.

“This is a bitter pill for all involved. The options at our disposal in regard to milk are becoming fewer and fewer. Pine Hill has absorbed all of the increases it can over the last eight months. As is well known, we have made representation to Government, and we continue to work with farmers so as to ensure the survival of the industry,” he said.

“It is absolutely critical that a holistic plan is agreed upon urgently. Today’s agreement provides us with a ‘window’ within which to finalise those plans and seek Government approval therefore. The plans will be designed to better position the industry to grow whilst ensuring that prices are reflective of the economic conditions that prevail.”

Chairperson of the farmers committee, Annette Beckett, said the agreement was “reached after robust discussion, in an effort to ensure that milk consumers continue to have fresh Bajan milk as an option, and that we sustain and grow the market for cow’s milk in Barbados”.

“Our primary aim is to ensure the survival of the industry, and the decision to take a temporary cut, with a window for increased production (excess milk), is with the proviso that we (farmers, Pine Hill and Government) will be seeking a long-term solution,” she said. Barbados Agricultural Society CEO, James Paul, called today’s deal “a significant landmark for the dairy industry”.

He said his hope was that it represented “a way of resolving difficult issues through discussion and consensus”.

“We at the BAS always try to bring stakeholders together, rather than have them take adversarial positions, to ensure long-term benefits to the industry. It is our goal to ensure that farming is financially viable and also to give the consumer a quality product at a reasonable price,” he said.

Matthew Power, one of the dairy farmers engaged in today’s discussions, said while the next two months would be hard “it is in the interest of keeping the price low to the consumer, so I feel comfortable with this temporary agreement”. (SC)

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