CARIB ROAD, Trelawny – The Trelawny-based Campbell’s Egg Farm, one of the island’s leading suppliers of table eggs in the hospitality sector, is set to lose an estimated $100 million, due to the fallout in business arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The cost just to put them [chickens] on the farm is about $50 million. I have bought them and now that they are here, and they are in full economic value and laying, they are worth more to me now. So, I am going to lose in excess of $100 million from this farm,” bemoaned Mark Campbell, chief executive officer of Campbell’s Egg Farm Limited, which sells its produce under two brands, Cherry’s Fresh Eggs and Campbell’s Egg Farm.
Campbell said he has been reluctantly pushed to commence the heartrending act of slaughtering and dumping his roughly 38,000 birds to avoid racking up further losses.
“Close to 38,000 we will dump. We have to dump them and at great expense, very great expense. We have created a burial site for them, and I think we should be able to dispose of that quantity there. We had a backhoe inside here that dug a hole for us,” he told the Jamaica Observer West.
He noted that roughly 36,000 eggs are in storage in boxes in one of the three cold rooms on the farm, adding that there is currently no market for the produce. He pointed out that he may have to dump the eggs in storage, if the pandemic is not eased anytime soon.
Campbell stressed that there is “little or no demand on the local market for white eggs”, which his farm produces.
“Eventuality they [36,000 eggs] might have to be dumped like the birds as well. I cannot produce another dozen eggs without somewhere to sell it.
“We are running only one cold room which has about 1,000 trays of eggs in there, and we can go three times that amount if we put the other cold rooms into operation, but it would also mean three times my light bill which is always in six and seven figures. I have one light bill to pay this week which is about $171,000, so if I turn on the other two [cold rooms] you can easily multiply that by three times. And without an income it makes no sense. So that’s the dilemma and the tragedy at the moment,” he argued.
He was quick to explain that the mass dumping of the birds, in a recently dug grave on the farm, only came about after efforts to sell the birds at discounted prices, and offering them to people free of cost, among other measures, have failed.
“We have been promised by two people who operate zoo-like facilities in Jamaica that they will come for some, but one of them will only take 1,500. We have given another 1,500 to another place; they arranged a truck and came for it. So, the vast majority of the 38, 000 white birds will be buried, there is no getting around it. My staff here will take whatever they want and anybody who wants any at all between now and the next few days, they can come. There is no charge,” he stressed.
Campbell expressed his regret for having to resort to the slaughtering and dumping of the birds, which he stated, were high producers, prior to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“When I look at the volume of fowls that I am slaughtering and dumping my conscience bothers me…I bought these fowls to come and lay, and they were producing as required, they were all up in their 90-odd percentage of productivity and to see me now slaughtering these birds that were discharging the duties, that they were asked to do, I hope God will forgive me for it,” he lamented.
With the downturn in business, most of the 16 permanent and four part-time workers have had to be laid off, which was another heartrending decision that Campbell had to take.
“We are now down to about five workers, only three work full time and two we are rotating. This is a devastating blow to them, and I had another serious emotional experience the first day the first batch of workers left the farm,” he told the Observer West.
“We provide living facilities for them here, and when they packed their bags and came down and the taxi came, and I knew that they were walking into a life of joblessness, it tore me up. It has been one of the most terrifying and painful experiences of my life.”
Campbell, a former president of the Jamaica Egg Farmers’ Association, now vice-president, expressed that the fallout in business due to COVID-19 has been the worst since he has been operating in the farming sector since 1981.
According to Campbell, checks have revealed that farmers who produce brown eggs, and whose main market is usually supermarkets, restaurants, and other local retailers, are not as heavily impacted by the economic fallout.
The farmers who produce white eggs have borne the brunt of the impact, he emphasised.
Government recently announced that it is making $240 million available to purchase excess produce from farmers impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
But when quizzed if he has received any assistance, Campbell replied, “My only help is from God”.
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