BUSHY Park Dairy Farm, a flagship “proudly Port Elizabeth” business and a much-loved feature of the metro for the past 20 years, is facing closure. The shock news was confirmed yesterday (June 21 2011) by managing trustee Puffer Hartzenberg, who was responding to unconfirmed reports about the matter.
Hartzenberg said the farm’s trustees “have embarked on a section 189a facilitation process which may result in closure of the entire dairy-based enterprise at the end of August 2011.”
A final decision will be taken at the end of July, “once the consultation conciliation mediation and arbitration (CCMA) driven process is completed”, he said.
“The reasons behind the proposed closure are simple economic fundamentals particular to the dairy industry, but also to the broader economy.
“The dairy sector is over-traded at present but some of the other pressures include escalating electricity tariffs and the skewed competition that has emerged from the government-supported dairy in the East London IDZ,” he said.
The EL IDZ dairy was launched last year, operating under the government’s industrial incentives’ scheme that offers substantially reduced electricity tariffs, and another state-supported dairy is now being proposed for the Coega IDZ, Hartzenberg noted.
“But right now, we are simply trying to identify any solutions that will enable us to avoid having to make an unpopular decision.”
Pressed on what possible solutions are being considered, he said he did not want to pre-empt any of these possibilities by revealing details at this stage.
Asked about the “end of August” date referred to, he said the CCMA process had to run for two months, and this date also related to the question of staff notice needing to be given.
“So we’re saying, if closure has to happen, this is when it will happen.”
The dairy, which is situated on the Seaview Road, runs 280 RBST-free cattle in milk. RBST is an artificial hormone that some dairies inject into their cows to increase their milk yield.
Seventy-four people are employed on the farm and at five Bushy Park Dairy factory shops in PE and Uitenhage, Hartzenberg said.
The dairy sells its own yoghurt and icecream besides about 6000l of milk a day through the factory shops as well as through Pick n Pay and Spar, hotels, hospitals and schools. Bushy Park products are marketed in the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality only.
The shops – which are located in 8th Avenue Walmer, at Access Retail Park (in front of Builder’s Warehouse), in Perridgevale Shopping Centre (behind Greenacres), in Linton Grange Shopping Centre and in Uitenhage near the Fruit & Veg – also market free-range eggs, honey, mushrooms and cheese products on behalf of other suppliers.
The gaily emblazoned Bushy Park Bus is a familiar presence around PE. The bus is used to transport staff to and from work and also to transport kids for free education excursions to the farm, an initiative launched five years ago by the trust.
Ironically, news of the possible closure co-incides with a column by prominent architect Tim Hewitt-Coleman, who argued in The Herald this week that the best and only way to beat poverty is to “think local” in all our business and social dealings.
Well-known Port Elizabeth psychologist and community activist Melissa Riorden, “one of Bushy Park’s many fans”, sent out an impassioned mass e-mail yesterday, calling on residents in the metro to renew their support for the dairy to try to turn the situation around.
“It is one of our greatest ‘proudly PE’ businesses. Please help me to show that we CAN support a local business. The dairy employs so many people and is such an asset to this city.
“Please let’s show them that we can support them by buying your milk, yoghurt, ice cream – even your honey and eggs from their shops. It might mean an extra stop – but it is SO WORTH IT.
“They sponsor school events, are great employers and support wonderful families. C’mon PE.... we need to take care of each other. Please pass this on.....”
Asked about her message, Riordon said she had hoped initially when she heard the news of the dairy’s possible closure that it was just a rumour, and had been horrified to find out it was true.
“Like so many of us, I buy from their shops, but it is more than that. I love what they do with their bus for their staff and education, and I love what they do for conservation, the regular beach clean-ups that they organise, and their marches against perlemoen poaching.”