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Barry Bishop

When Barry Bishop bought the land on which his farm now sits, it was a wasteland of grasses and trees. However, over the last nine years he has transformed the space into a dairy farm with over 150 sturdy looking cows, bulls and heifers that roam the expansive mush lands and ruminate on grasses planted on the farm just for them. But the cows and the pigs he also breeds are not the only moving species on the farm. Ducks, chickens, Bajan yard-fowls, polka-dotted guinea fowls and gracious peacocks blissfully dawdle, peck or strut about to complete the farm.

Situated in the most easterly part of the island in the parish of St. Philip, Bishop’s Farm, as it is called, is an oasis which takes you by surprise and you can easily rush past it as you drive if you are not watchful. The Farm, as it is also called by locals, is managed by Mr Barry Bishop who is ably supported by his wife, a small staff and until recently his late mother who actively engaged in chores around the farm well into her nineties.

Mr Bishop started out as a small landowner in Christ Church where he grew up. Back then, he cultivated his modest landholding before he migrated to Canada, but while in Canada he decided that on his return to Barbados he would expand his holdings. When he returned he purchased the farm he now operates. He planted vegetables but soon realised that he had to use too many chemicals to get the yield he wanted from his crops so consequently shifted his operations to

“I struggled at first
for about two to three
years and then we got
our footing right and
continued from there.”

breeding pigs and selling piglets. He later switched to sheep farming and then to beef production. To further expand the farm, he leased some land from BADMC through the Land for the Landless Programme. The opportunity to further expand his operations came when he purchased the assets of a friend’s dairy. Thereafter, Bishop’s Farm evolved into a full-fledged dairy farm.

For him, the switch from beef production to dairy farming was an economic decision predicated on market forces. He noted that “At that time the beef market was slow and expenses were high, especially the cost of grass.” Mr Bishop recalled, “I struggled at first for about two to three years and then we got our footing right and continued from there.”

Finding financing to suit the needs of a farmer was at first a challenge. However, as a member of the Barbados Agricultural Society (BAS) he was advised of the types of lending agencies and financing options available for his type of business. After some meetings with the (BAS) and careful consideration, he decided that EGFL was the place he wanted to obtain financing, as other financial institutions could not accommodate his needs.

When asked to state some of the critical ingredients to having productive animals and high quality milk, Mr Bishop stressed that adequate nutrition for the animals and an impeccably hygienic environment were two elements of dairy farming to which he paid very special attention. He pointed out that “It starts with nutrition from birth. You have to feed the calves in a manner that they will remain healthy. Without proper nutrition, growth would be stunted and you would have problems with breeding and milk production.” He then explained that sanitation was another aspect of dairy farming he took seriously and affirmed that “You must be very, very thorough in cleaning everything that you do in dairy farming.”

We wanted to know from Mr Bishop how he copes when there is a glut on the market and demand for milk drops, thus impacting the purchase price he receives from the Pine Hill Dairy, which is the sole buyer of milk from farmers. Mr Bishop quickly pointed out that since there are no alternatives to the Pine Hill Dairy he is forced to find creative ways to off-load some of his excess milk to other farmers. Accepting that this is not a sustainable option, he suggested that farmers need to form cooperatives and set up a plant to process milk and the by-products of milk, like yogurt, ice-cream, cheese and even butter.

The issue of the Cess on Milk Act 2018 introduced to place a 10% tax (cess) on imported milk-based products such as condensed milk, flavoured milk, milk-based beverages and milk-substitute beverages was also raised with Mr Bishop. The cess was intended to finance a grant to local farmers so that they could reduce their farm gate prices to the Pine Hill Dairy and ultimately reduce the cost of milk to consumers.

He recalled that he grew
up with a pig tied under
a tree and had to feed
it and a goat tied under
the cellar. Whereas he
accepts that those days are
now gone, his desire for
farming, which is in his
DNA, has not.

Mr Bishop candidly stated that the cess is not working because it is not in place. He believes that logistics as to how the farmer should be paid still have to be worked out. He however believes that the cess is a good idea which should be revisited as it would help the local farmers while giving Barbadians an opportunity to consume fresh milk at a reasonable price.

Although there are challenges inherent in the industry he loves, Mr Bishop’s professional approach and his determination to achieve the goals he sets for his farm have earned him top awards from Pine Hill Dairy in their Best Quarterly Milk Quality Awards as part of the Farmers’ Rewards and Recognition Programme. In April, 2015, after just 5 years of supplying milk to the Pine Hill Dairy, out of 17 milk producers, he received the top award “for providing milk of a consistently high quality”. In 2016 he won the top award for producing the best quality milk in the island and by 2017 had won a total of four quarterly awards.

…Start small, be steady and
grow the farm slowly…

In spite of his success, his staff complement at the farm has not changed significantly since accessing funding from EGFL and he hires part-time staff from time to time to help out on the farm. On the question of utilising energy efficient solutions on the farm, Mr Bishop pointed out that he has a water-well which he uses to provide the animals with drinking water which is not saline and is best for them. He also uses the water to clean the holding area and recycles the water wherever possible.

While he could not state categorically why some dairy farmers failed, he believes that farming must be “in your blood” if you are to succeed. He stated confidently, “I did not quit . . . I didn’t fail.” Therefore, his advice to young people who want to pursue animal husbandry or farming as career options is to be sure of what they want as these businesses are challenging. He noted that there had been more than 30 dairy farmers on the island and now there are only 15. He cautioned youngsters to start small, be steady and grow the farm slowly. He agreed that an apprenticeship programme would be a very helpful idea to encourage youngsters to get involved in farming, to learn the techniques and “see first-hand how [the business is] done,” instead of trying to start the business from the top.

At the moment the farm is not actively involved in community projects although he previously facilitated several school tours without charge. However, he assists Bailey’s Primary School with the Scouts and some of their annual programmes.

To balance his time among business, family and other interests, he relies on his wife who competently manages the farm whenever the need arises. He confesses that he does not have to do anything major to keep motivated since he has been motivated “from a very early age – from small.” He recalled that he grew up with a pig tied under a tree and had to feed it and a goat tied under the cellar. Whereas he accepts that those days are now gone, his desire for farming, which is in his DNA, has not.

As we came to the final stages of the interview, Mr Bishop noted that his relationship with EGFL is “very good.” He recalled the times when he thought he was in trouble and called on them for help and they were “very accommodating,” responded positively and gave him sound advice. He admitted that although he never had to use the advice he felt as if he had a financial institution to rely on and that meant a lot to him. “My experience with them was super. I would recommend anyone to go to EGFL.” He opined that the interest rates could come down a bit but quickly joked that someone has to be paid. For him, “EGFL is the right place to be.”