(JAMAICA GLEANER) — A Clarendon egg farmer slaughtered and buried 12,000 layer chickens on Tuesday to cut his losses as a result of the dramatic slump in egg prices and sales, which he attributes to the agriculture ministry’s intervention to ease a surplus by subsidising costs.
Vincent Fenton, who operates the 30,000-capacity Staynick Farms Limited in New Longville, Clarendon, blames his downfall on the artificially low prices offered at farmers’ markets promoted by the Government where eggs have been sold as low as $500 a flat, without the cost of GCT or market add-ons.
The upshot, according to Fenton: the flooding of the market with low-price eggs in Portmore and other sections of St Catherine.
He provided videos to The Gleaner showing a front-end loader burying the birds and workers clubbing the chickens to death in a bid to bring about their quick execution. Fenton said his drastic actions were the result of mounting losses, which have seen him lay off workers and pay higher electricity bills as profits dwindled.
Fenton, who distributes to supermarkets in Kingston, St Ann, Manchester, St James, Westmoreland, Clarendon, and St Catherine, said his revenue evaporated after the Government’s decision to mitigate the glut on the hands of some farmers who were contracted to supply eggs to hotels and restaurants.
“The problem we are facing now with the Government’s intervention is that they have given permission to these farmers to come into Portmore, May Pen, and all over the place, to sell their products at very low prices, which have been subsidised to the extent that it has thrown us out of the market,” said Fenton.
“When we supply the supermarkets with eggs, we have to put on GCT, and in addition, the supermarkets have to put on their mark-ups. So what is happening is that the eggs in the supermarkets cannot move because people stock up on the cheap ones. So what it is doing is putting us out of business because the playing field is not level. We have to sell the eggs with the GCT, but when they go into the farmers’ market, they don’t add GCT, and it is killing us,” he lamented.
One supermarket manager in St Catherine told The Gleaner that at the start of the COVID-19 crisis, sales of eggs and other merchandise had picked up but had generally slowed.
A flat, or tray of 30 eggs, sells for $1,065, inclusive of GCT and mark-up.
Fenton said his capital outlay has increased significantly in trying to observe the heightened sanitary conditions under the COVID-19 standards. In addition to spending on alcohol, bleach, and sanitary towels, he has also had to supply masks to employees.
With the decimation of his flock, the farmer has had to lay off some of his 17 full-time and three part-time workers.
Meanwhile, permanent secretary in the agriculture ministry, Dermon Spence, has expressed shock and sadness at the news, explaining that this runs counter to the latest information provided by president of the Jamaica Egg Farmers, Roy Baker, on Wednesday morning.
Spencer and acting Chief Technical Director Michael Pryce had discussed whether they needed to go another round of the subsidies but had been assured by Baker that it was unnecessary since the association had no more excess eggs to supply the ministry.
“I spoke to Mr Baker this morning, and he said there is no need for the subsidy anymore because they are not interested, and, in fact, are looking to enter the market at prices between $700 and $750 a flat,” Price told The Gleaner.
He explained that the ministry had been taking eggs from the farmers at $6,000 a case – with a subsidy of an additional $1,000 – which computes to just under $600 a flat.
Both men expressed sadness at the farmer having to kill birds and offered to help by either taking chickens off his hands or having him take the eggs directly to the ministry.