In farming, every penny counts. Producing a liter of goat milk at 70 or 75 cents can make the difference between survival or closure. The largest expenses of the farms come from the feeding of the animals. In the Canary Islands, almost all feed and fodder are imported and, therefore, the islands are subject to the ups and downs of international markets. Speculation and the war in Ukraine have increased the price that producers must pay for their cows or goats to eat every day, sometimes more than double. Despite being subsidized by the Specific Supply Regime (REA), animal feed absorbs practically all of the production costs and neither sales nor aid from institutions such as the regional government or councils arrive. The farmers are forced to take on debt with the companies that buy and sell the millet, alfalfa or ryegrass and get rid of the animals that produce the least in order to maintain their activity.
Livestock in the Canary Islands does not cover its expenses or with government aid
“Before the pandemic we were with 700 goats and currently we are going for 300 heads and decreasing, because we do not cover costs and we have to be killing 20 or 30 animals every week to be able to buy food and be able to pay rent, electricity or water. and all the expenses”, explains David Chamo, a rancher who has a farm on a leased farm in Arico (Tenerife). From a farming family, he remembers that his father “was one of the goatherds that existed in the area of Santa Cruz de Tenerife in the sixties, who sold milk from house to house.” In 2012 he started his activity, through which he directly sells his own artisanal cheeses, but at 44 years old he does not know if he will be able to continue after December.
Although the slaughter of animals in dairy farms is a common activity when they stop producing, Chamo says that he has been forced to dispense with pregnant goats that give milk, “because at the slaughterhouse, the butchers pay for kilo, the more it weighs the more you charge, so I have to kill the biggest ones, the fattest ones, to be able to cover the expenses”. It is from June when Chamo says that he began to go more frequently to the island slaughterhouse, when he ran out of his savings. “I slaughtered 95 animals that month in 15 days,” he says. The reason? “The cost of feed,” he replies.
According to his story, he is spending an average of 500 euros a day to feed his animals and the sale of his products brings him about 400 euros. “He had a loss of 100 euros a day every day,” says Chamo, who highlights the impossibility of raising the prices of cheese to his customers because they would not buy from him. For five years he has been at 9 euros. Everything he earns goes to feed his goats and for four months he has not been able to pay the rent for the farm, which amounts to 2,000 euros per month. “Either I pay the rent or they eat the animals,” he adds.
However, from the Insular Slaughterhouse of Tenerife they consider that the number of slaughtered animals, which are then used for human consumption, falls within normal parameters. The Minister of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries of the Cabildo de Tenerife, Javier Parrilla, acknowledges that a “constant and continuous increase” has been recorded for three years, but considers that “it is not related to the successive crises we have suffered, such as the pandemic or now with the international cereal crisis”. Parrilla indicates that, although it is true that “there are entities that have had to close”, the increase in sacrifices is not related to the increase in production costs.
“The data shows a certain normality, with a certain growth in the number of heads, in the kilos of goat, sheep and cow,” says Parrilla, for whom this shows that there is greater confidence in the local product of fresh meat. In this sense, he explains that livestock is not exclusively dedicated to the production of milk or cheese on the Islands, there are also farms for meat. And the fact that there is “a slight increase of 5% in the number of kilos slaughtered” implies that there is more local product on the market.
In Gran Canaria, the island with the most livestock in the entire Archipelago, “in general the slaughter has gone down, it has not gone up”, indicates the general director of the Matadero Insular Agustín González. In bovine there has been an increase that blames a single rancher in particular because his cows are no longer productive: “If there are 240 more, this man has 200,” he says. And in goats, there has also been “a small increase” and here “it may be that there are small farmers who do not want to keep their animals, but that does not happen with large producers.”
On his farm with 400 goats located in Agüimes (Gran Canaria), Juan (not his real name) explains that those animals that produce less than 1.5 liters of milk per day are slaughtered as long as they have an agreement with a butcher to obtain an economic compensation. “The average on my farm is 2 liters a day, those that gave less than 1.5, before I could take them a little longer, when the price of feed was a little cheaper, but the way they are now, I can’t keep them and I take them to the slaughterhouse,” he says.
Juan points out that the price of animal feed “has risen tremendously”, although it has remained the same, and that of fodder “is crazy” with a tendency to continue growing. The millo, last year I bought it at 18 cents per kilo, now it is at 0.40 euros; A couple of years ago, he was getting 24-ton containers of alfalfa for 5,000 euros and the last one he bought in July cost him 10,200 euros. He can buy the products thanks to the loans and because the companies allow him to get into debt.
Thanks to the fact that the industrialists who buy milk from him have increased their payment, he manages to support himself, but without earning any profit. In March they paid him 0.68 euros and now, 75 cents. With sales and aid from the Government of the Canary Islands and the Cabildo, it can cover its costs, which amount to 1 euro per milk produced. “The help comes from heaven and I am very grateful, but they are patches, they come in from one side and come out the other,” says Juan.
During this year, the demands of the subsector, warning of its disappearance if measures were not taken, converged in May in a meeting between the Government of the Canary Islands and the food chain, from all representatives of the producers to the industrialists and the retail surfaces consumer. It was agreed to raise the price received by farmers dedicated to milk production: go from 50 to 60 cents per liter of cow’s milk and from 70 to between 90 cents and one euro for goat and sheep. However, a month later they met again, but the industrialists did not come. The president of the Government of the Canary Islands, Ángel Víctor Torres, appreciated that the price was raised “slightly”, but at the same time recognized that it was still far from the demands of the farmers.
Roberto Castro, a rancher with a farm of 1,600 heads of goats in Arona (Tenerife) intended for milk production, says that it costs him 1.10 euros to produce a liter of milk, but they pay him 75 cents. However, he understands that the industrialists cannot raise the price they pay to the producers because if not, the large surfaces will not buy from him. But he does criticize that local cheeses and milk have to compete with powdered milk, “which is very cheap and subsidized” with the REA. In other words, the same aid that makes the importation of feed and fodder cheaper, facilitates the acquisition of powdered milk.
“Aid is not going to solve anything. I charge a lot in aid, but I spend a lot. The Government should prioritize that the local product is consumed before that of the outside and not allow cheese to be made with powdered milk. If products from abroad come in cheaper than what it costs to produce here and they are bought by large stores, we will never get ahead,” explains Castro.
Their situation does not differ from that of the rest of the subsector. He continues to accumulate debts with the feed companies and has also had to do without animals that he previously kept despite the fact that they gave him little production. “The slaughterhouse doesn’t buy anything from me, it does a service, which is to kill the animal. I have to find the buyer. But buyers take advantage, because they know you have to get rid of them and the animals are worth less. If I don’t have anyone to sell that goat to, I don’t slaughter it, because on top of that the slaughterhouse is going to charge me for slaughtering it,” explains Castro.
For this reason, every month he works “at a loss”. “We don’t know how long we can last. Feed and fodder are not going down, they are too expensive. The milk doesn’t come up,” he adds. Until now, he can cover all the expenses, except for the feed for the animals. “Thanks to the fact that they give me credit, but I always drag. I get a subsidy and yes, I pay what I owe, but in two months I’m the same”, laments Castro. In addition, he does not see it as viable to sell animals to other farms because “we are all the same”. He remembers that they offered him more goats, but he turned them down because he couldn’t keep them. “Not given away, I’m not even breeding.”
For the Minister of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries of the Cabildo de Tenerife, both the subsector and the institutions are “waiting to see how the international situation evolves”. Parrilla believes that “when fear enters the door, hope jumps out the window” and “there are many people who express their anguish or their lack of confidence in their own management.” But he remembers that there are many lines of aid for livestock, both European, regional and island. “The administration is putting almost all the meat on the grill, we are putting everything we can to give confidence,” Parrilla concludes.