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Milk supply secure amidst heat

October 16, 2023

With extreme temperatures causing cows to under-produce. Pine Hill Dairy (PHD) said Tuesday it is implementing strategies to ensure there are adequate supplies of milk on supermarket shelves. In an interview with Barbados TODAY. Shafia London. the country manager of Banks Holdings Limited (BHL). the dairy's parent company. reported that the company's raw milk intake for the past two months had been unexpectedly low. She pointed out that intake levels were 7.2 per cent lower than last year's output and 9.3 per cent lower than that of 2021.

While she mentioned that the situation had not reached a crisis point. London noted that the dairy was closely monitoring the weather and its impact on milk production. She also highlighted that 'strong" milk production during the first and second quarters of the year had prevented a more severe situation. Over the past few weeks, farmers had been grappling with scorching heat, which significantly affected their operations. Some reported a 15 to 20 per cent decrease in milk production due to heifers' sensitivity to heat stress, resulting in lower milk yields than under normal conditions. This has affected the farmers financially with higher expenses for labour, feed, and utilities. London acknowledged the extraordinary nature of the situation, as farmers attributed it to factors like the sun, humidity, and dryness. She expressed support for the farmers' perspective, acknowledging their close knowledge of their animals' needs and vulnerabilities in the heat. "At the end of the day, they are living animals and so they will be susceptible to discomfort just like we are. It's very hot. So what the farmers are saying is very valid and we'll have to monitor it. If [things] continue this way, then obviously we expect an impact," she said. London indicated that Pine Hill Dairy was actively working on strategies to assist farmers in addressing the issue. "We do have a number of initiatives that will increase the overall productivity of the
milk output from the cows. One of them is [based] around the feeding regime. But we do have a major initiative that we will be launching soon. with another partner, which will provide direct support to the farmers in terms of their feeding regime so that at least the productivity could be boosted. "So we're providing support to the farmers to increase the comfort levels of the animals wherever we could. It may mean we need to look at the stock of the animals on the island in the near future if these ones are being impacted in such a great way.... But we are not at a crisis per se just yet. Certainly, for the fanners. their output is in milk. And so, if it's declining for them. then that impacts their livelihoods in a direct way." she added. The decrease in raw milk intake during August and September was mitigated by the strong milk production earlier in the year. PHD had a robust start to the year. with raw milk intake up to September on par with the previous year. the country manager said. While there was a notable decline in quarter three compared to 2021 and 2021 there were signs of a slight recovery in October. "In terms of the seasonality of the milk that we're getting. it's following the same trend, but just at a lower level over the last couple of months." London explained. "So if we accumulated [the raw milk intake] from January to June we are in line with last year because we had a really strong half year in terms of the output from the farmers with all the initiatives we put in place with them and
the farmers have been doing a fantastic job." However. the BHL country manager reported sharp third-quarter declines year-on. year since 2021. "But, we are seeing a slight recovery since October started and certainly we'll be monitoring this closely," she added. Regarding the retail aspect of Pine Hill Dairy's business. London noted a decline in sales due to a recent price increase. The dairy had adjusted prices in July and August. reflecting spikes in operational costs. London emphasised that the dairy was working internally to improve efficiency. but some external costs necessitated passing on price adjustments to consumers. London said: "We did see a decline based on some price adjustments that we had to do around July/August: we did see a sharp decline which was expected whenever there's a price adjustment. But since then we are seeing a fair recovery. "We had to change our prices in the market for some of our products. As a business. we have to look at our entire operation and we found that based on these spikes in costs that we have been facing in recent time--operational costs—we obviously had to make some adjustments to compensate for that. Internally, we are doing things differently. including improving how efficient our plant operates. but some of it are external costs that we unavoidably couldn't absorb and so we had to extend some of that to the shelf prices."


Shafia London, Country Manager at BHL, Pine Hill Dairy's parent company.