Published October 11, 2011
Ray Woodrow Blake has been a farmer his entire life. For the past six years, he has been working at a large goat farm in Chantilly, near Savanna-la-Mar, the capital of Westmoreland Parish, Jamaica.
He loves the life and says it makes him strong and healthy to do the hard work required to raise the goats. The farm has about 300 Nubian goats, which he sells to individuals, restaurants and hotels.
Blake said the goat business is good and he doesn't have a lot of pressure to decrease the price of his locally raised goats because of cheaper imports. In true Jamaican style, he contributes his business' success to the better taste of Jamaican goats.
"Foreign goats are not sweet and nice like our local goats," Blake said.
Production costs are high though, and the sweet feed and medicine that his boss buys for the goats come from the United States. Sweet feed is a combination of oats, corn and minerals mixed with molasses that farmers use to supplement a herd’s grass diet. By using foreign products to raise the goats, Blake is forced to raise the price of his goats in order to turn a profit.
"Sometimes we feel the pinch from the cheaper (foreign) meat; sometimes it makes us suffer with our local goat meat," Blake conceded.
Christopher Serju, agriculture writer for The Gleaner, Jamaica's leading newspaper, said the problem relates to economies of scale. American farmers can keep their prices down because they might also produce corn for the sweet feed, he said.
"The United States is huge. America has millions and millions of acres of corn to plant," Serju said.
Jamaica, only 145 miles long and 50 miles wide, simply doesn't have the space to plant enough corn to supply goat farmers with all the feed their goats require. So because American goat farmers can produce the feed and buy cheaper American-made medicines, their product can be exported to Jamaica and compete at lower prices.
Blake likened competing with American products to a game of poker, where the one with the most money is likely to win every hand.
"If foreign goats are cheaper, then I have to lower my price," Blake said.
Blake said it would be better if more Jamaicans joined him the goat business and helped the country build a strong goat industry.
In 2009, Derrick Vermont, President of the Jamaica Goat Farmers Association, addressed a large gathering of goat farmers and informed them of the potential for growth in the industry.
"Right now we are supplying only 16 percent of the goat meat that we eat in Jamaica. We are spending $700 million to import goat meat and we need 2.5 million goats to be self-sufficient," he said.
For Blake, goat farming is a point of Jamaican pride. He talks a lot about their sweet flavor and the fact that they are raised naturally. He believes that goat farming could grow to be something Jamaica is known for world-wide.
"Our economy would be better and Jamaica could be more independent if more youths would get into (goat) farming," he said.